We were joined by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage.
We were joined by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage.
The Prime Minister spoke to senior members of the European Research Group on Christmas Eve in a bid to persuade them to back the agreement when it comes to the Commons next Wednesday.
The group is convening a ‘star chamber’ of legal experts to analyse the deal – and is not expected to issue its final verdict until Monday, when members have had the chance to scrutinise the full document.
Boris Johnson has started lobbying hardline Brexiteers in his party to support his deal. Pictured: Johnson speaks to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen from his on Wednesday as they agreed to a Brexit deal
Brexit Party leader Mr Farage hailed the agreement, declaring ‘the Brexit wars are over’, but ex-Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘Beneath the spin, bits and pieces of important detail are starting to emerge that raise questions.
‘That’s why the Government should now release the full text.’
MPs and peers have been summoned back to Parliament to vote on the deal on December 30 – just a day before the end of the transition period.
It will be fast-tracked to ensure it gets Royal Assent from the Queen in time for the final deadline to ensure it can be implemented from January 1.
Brexit Party leader Mr Farage hailed the agreement, declaring ‘the Brexit wars are over’ and he praised Boris Johnson as ‘the man who finished the job’
There is no chance of a Commons defeat for Mr Johnson because Labour has said it will vote in favour. But the PM wants as many hardline Brexiteers as possible to support the agreement to ensure a firm end to the Tory wars which have bedevilled the party for a generation – and cost a series of party leaders their jobs.
The deal also has to be passed by all other EU members, but that is expected to be a formality. Even France – which pushed hard during the talks to protect the rights of its fishermen – has spoken warmly of the agreement.
Mr Johnson started ringing senior ERG members on Christmas Eve to push the deal. Oliver Lewis, the deputy chief British negotiator under Lord Frost, also has a key role in ensuring as much support for the agreement as possible.
The Vote Leave manifesto author – known in Downing Street as ‘Sonic’ – is in regular contact with ERG members to explain the agreement.
No 10 is understood to be confident that the deal ‘seems to have landed in a decent place’.
A source said: ‘The Prime Minister clearly wants as many colleagues as possible to vote for the deal. He genuinely wouldn’t have signed it if he didn’t think it was good for the country.’
Pro-Brexit supporters who took part in the March to Leave protest approach police outside Downing Street on March 29 2019
Mr Farage’s comments will be welcomed by Mr Johnson, who had feared the Brexit Party would paint the agreement as a betrayal.
On Wednesday, the former Ukip leader appeared to be preparing to cry betrayal over the deal, tweeting: ‘It sounds like the British team have dropped the ball before the line. No wonder they want a Christmas Eve announcement to hide the fisheries sell-out.’
But by Thursday morning he had shifted his position, praising Mr Johnson and his top lieutenant Michael Gove as the two senior Conservative politicians who ‘had the guts to back Brexit’.
Speaking to TalkRadio, Mr Farage described the trade deal as ‘not perfect but, goodness me, still progress’.
‘The Brexit wars are over, they finish on January 1,’ he said. ‘Boris will be seen as the man that finished the job. Perhaps not perfectly but, yes, he’s done what he said he’d do on the big picture.’
Mr Farage added: ‘I suspect on some of the detail, such as “we’ll be back in charge of our fisheries”, history may judge some of those aspects a little more harshly. But on the big stuff, the war is over. It has gone on for decades in this country, from the Maastricht rebellion onwards.
‘It’s never, ever gone away – the fight over whether we should be part of the European structures or not.’
Inside Nigel George’s old shearing shed on Tasmania’s east coast is a workshop fit for a Christmas elf.
Mr George has spent months tirelessly tinkering away in the brightly painted shed in St Marys, piecing together and assembling the necessary pieces for the town’s Christmas window display.
He used to keep his work under the radar, with only a few knowing who was behind the festive decorations — until now.
“A lot of people don’t know who I am or where the display comes from, they just know it appears every year,” Mr George said.
“I suppose you could call me the secret toy fairy, the secret train set fairy maybe — yeah, you could say that.”
Sitting front and centre in the bay window of the St Marys General Store is Mr George’s pride and joy, a miniature Christmas display featuring many of the prominent buildings in the town, like the fire station, local pub and even the servo.
The display is intricate, detailed, and has flashing Christmas lights that can be seen from across the street.
There is also plenty of tinsel, a replica Christmas parade down the main street — and it wouldn’t be a Christmas display without the big man in red.
“It’s something for the older members of the community to take their grandchildren or their great-grandchildren down and show them how they used to play before you had your phone, and before you had your screens.
“Some have probably never seen a train set running like this, so it is good, it does make me feel really happy and that’s why I do it.
“It’s for the community, and if it brings other people in to have a look around St Marys, spend a few dollars, that’s good.”
So, how did this all start?
Five years ago, Mr George was discussing the window display with the past owners of the general store.
“It was a spur of the moment thing. I remember saying I’ve got a train, and the store owners said, ‘alright, why don’t we do something’, and so that’s how we did it,” he said.
“Originally, it was a very simple board, very few trees, very few buildings and the train just went round and round a big Christmas tree with lots of presents.
“As the years have gone on, we decided we’d go a little bit further, and a little bit further so each year it’s changed slightly, it’s a little bit more exciting, and more things to see.”
A few months ago, the store changed hands, and the McElroys took over.
Helen McElroy and her husband Darren moved to Tasmania from Queensland just before the COVID-19 restrictions came into effect.
They said they jumped at the idea of continuing the tradition.
“We love it, we love having it in our window,” Ms McElroy said.
“It’s a great replica of the town.”
The main street is usually filled with thousands of people for the annual Christmas parade, but it has been cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 restrictions, like many others across the state.
“I think the town is actually going to try a little bit harder because there’s no parade and that would normally fill our streets so I think this year people are thinking of other ways to get the community together,” Ms McElroy said.
Mr George started collected trains when he was a child, and now, at 53, he has an extensive collection.
“A lot of it I’ve kept from then, some I’ve lost along the way, but now it’s coming back to life in my second childhood,” he said.
The father-of-four said his children also enjoyed the display’s creation.
“My children do get a sense of pride to be able to stand in front of the window and say to other kids, to their friends, to their schoolmates, ‘my dad did that’,” he said.
“They know the little things to look for, the small little things hidden inside.”
Nigel said he planned to keep making the displays for as long as he could, adding new pieces every year.
“Next year the pub will be bigger and better, and more detailed,” he said.
“It’s a nice feeling, I’m doing something that someone values, hopefully something a lot of people value.”
“FRANKLY, I’VE had enough of lockdown,” declared Nigel Farage in a video shot on November 1st in the bar of Donald Trump’s Washington, DC, hotel. The man responsible for Brexit, who was visiting America to support his friend’s campaign, has announced that he will be launching a new political party, Reform UK, to contest local elections next spring. It will advocate letting covid-19 circulate freely among the young and healthy, while the old and vulnerable shield themselves.
The Tory party once dismissed Mr Farage’s followers as a gaggle of golf-club bores and pub cranks. The problem for Boris Johnson is that, once again, Britain’s club houses and bars are closed, and a growing slice of their Conservative-voting patrons are unhappy about it. On November 5th, the government instigated a second national lockdown, which will be in place until at least December 2nd.
Mr Johnson had vowed to avoid that at all costs, and had wanted to pursue a series of tiered regional restrictions. He changed course on October 31st, after the government’s scientists warned that on its current trajectory the disease would kill up to 4,000 people a day in the week before Christmas. That, Mr Johnson said, would be a “moral and medical disaster”, which would see hospitals filled and doctors choosing whom to save.
Ministers scoff at Mr Farage’s many comebacks. He is “like Frank Sinatra”, says one. But he is hard to ignore, for he has traumatised and transformed the Conservative Party in the past decade. First, as leader of the UK Independence Party, he turbocharged the question of EU membership by fusing it to immigration, and compelled David Cameron to hold the 2016 referendum. Then, as Theresa May’s exit treaty became stuck in Parliament, he launched the Brexit Party, which swiftly overtook the Tories in the polls, prompting them to dump her and her deal. His method is to harass the party through local and European elections, thus panicking the leadership into adopting his policies.
Mr Johnson was chosen to replace Mrs May because Tories believed that only he could suppress Mr Farage and unite the party under the Brexit banner. The Tory village has been rebuilt as a citadel against future assaults. Europhiles and fiscal disciplinarians were given the boot. Its mission is to deliver Brexit, and to hold together the coalition that Mr Johnson built. Yet Mr Farage can spy cracks in the fortress walls.
On November 4th, 34 Tories voted against the new restrictions. They abhor the lockdown as a violation of civil liberties, a destroyer of jobs and a humiliating reversal. Ministers fear that in future they will need Labour support to pass covid-19 rules—a sign of impotence that last year’s election victory was meant to banish.
The splits on covid-19 are shallower and less treacherous than on Europe, which afflicted the party for three decades. But they run along similar lines. The lockdown critics include Iain Duncan Smith and Steve Baker, leading Brexiteers. Mr Farage will get enthusiastic support from the Daily Telegraph, a Brexity newspaper, and the right-wing commentariat. Each side has its favoured scientists. The polarisation makes it increasingly hard to forge a national consensus on epidemiology, just as it was on European trade policy.
Lockdown scepticism is a minority pursuit, but growing: support has fallen from 93% of voters in March to 72% now. The low-trust, anti-immigration voters who flitted between Mr Farage and Mr Johnson are the “shakiest wing” of the Tory coalition, says Rob Ford, a political scientist and co-author with Maria Sobolewska of “Brexitland”, a new book. “It doesn’t take much for them to be out the door.” The government’s net approval rating among Leave voters stands at -3%, compared with 67% in March. A growing share of Leavers say the prime minister is weak rather than strong, according to YouGov, a pollster. Most significantly, Mr Johnson’s vote is spongy at the edges. The proportion of people who voted Tory in 2019 who are now either undecided or wouldn’t vote at all is up from 8% in January to 18% now. For Labour voters the figure has fallen one point to 12%.
This is fertile terrain for Mr Farage, who undermines Mr Johnson’s raison d’être. The prime minister’s appeal to his party lay in his ability to match Mr Farage’s beery charm. He is now mirthless, and deeply reliant on the Whitehall expertocracy he once mocked. “Boris and his people want us all to hide behind the sofa,” says Richard Tice, chairman of Reform UK. The damage may last even if a vaccine curbs the pandemic soon, for rebellion is habit-forming.
Mr Farage’s return will sharpen the Conservatives’ instinct to prioritise holding its Brexit coalition together over pursuing new voters. But the task will get harder. Since 2015, the Tories have told Mr Farage’s followers that while they might like the cut of his jib, only they can deliver a referendum on Europe, or an exit deal. A Labour Party with a hard-left leader was a useful bogey. But Brexit is nearly done, and Sir Keir Starmer does not frighten the horses.
How is Mr Johnson to bind his coalition? One answer is money. The government will launch an infrastructure spree in its new northern constituencies. Another is the threat of a Scottish independence referendum, which Mr Johnson will oppose. It will also double down on cultural issues; ministers think a row over the singing of patriotic songs at the Proms music festival resonated with their base. Many Conservatives will conclude from Mr Trump’s better-than-expected performance that a disastrous response to covid-19 can be overcome by whipping up angry identity politics, says Mr Ford.
Yet that approach is fraught with risks. It may push the liberal wing of the Tory coalition towards the soothing Sir Keir. Continental Europe’s experience suggests that aping the rhetoric of the radical right fans its flames rather than dousing them, reckons Tim Bale, a political scientist. Mr Johnson may eventually succeed in managing the pandemic. But a prime minister can never match Mr Farage as a crusading outsider, nor as the toast of the golf club. ■
This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Look who’s back”
ell, it has certainly been an interesting week. I have spent my time travelling around the US following the Trump train. From Arizona to the frozen Midwest in Michigan, and back to the East Coast states such as Pennsylvania. What I witnessed was the most fanatical support base any political leader has ever achieved. At the outdoor rallies, huge crowds gather and wait for the arrival of Air Force One. Loud music plays, with Queen’s We Are The Champions a particular favourite.
I don’t usually dance in public, but with the freezing conditions of Michigan and my poor choice of leather-soled shoes, I did. It was the only way of keeping warm. As Trump arrives at each arena, the crowd goes wild with chants of “we love you”, and they really do mean it. Although I’m the only foreigner in the venue, all of the Trump base seem to be ardent Brexiteers. At each event, for some reason, the President points me out to the crowd and even invited me on the stage in Arizona. I’ve loved every minute of following the campaign and was convinced the pollsters were wrong.
While all this was going on, the Covid 19 debate was taking a dark turn in the UK as we headed towards another national lockdown. I have pondered for many months what do with the Brexit Party given that we now have Brexit. While the final shape of a deal is yet to emerge, I’m sure there will be some disappointments. But the most pressing issue is lockdown and, unlike the USA, there has been no real debate or opposition on this.
Yes, there are some Tory rebels but Parliament has overwhelmingly voted for us to be disastrously locked down again. It is something that many businesses in London and the rest of the UK will never recover from. So, an application went into the electoral commission to rebrand the party as Reform UK and to fight against it. I really should have been at home to do this and not land the whole thing in the lap of Richard Tice. The early signs are that a lot of people will support our position.
When the polls closed on Tuesday morning, I joined a private party with many of the campaign team and prominent supporters at the Trump Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. They were an eclectic bunch and included several rappers with full body art.
I am told they were all a big deal but confess that I’d never heard of any of them. Needless to say, I didn’t spit any bars on the night. It was very quickly clear the predicted blue wave of a Democrat landslide was not going to happen.
Yes, the pollsters had got it wrong again. For an hour or so, there was total euphoria then, the stunned silence of everyone when Fox News prematurely called Arizona for Biden. The counting is still going on as I write and a huge row has begun in key states all over America.
I have no idea where the lawsuits over postal voting will end but what I do know is that Trump has 68 million fanatical supporters and he is not going away.
Now I’m just about to head off to the airport to come back for two weeks of quarantine at home. But with pubs closed, I won’t be missing much.
Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have blocked the deadline extension,
In a dissenting opinion, Gorsuch said last-minute rule changes by a state election board can “invite confusion, risk altering election outcomes, and in the process, threaten voter confidence in the results.” The election board impermissibly rewrote state election laws, a power reserved to the legislature, he wrote.
The decision in the North Carolina case was the second setback for Republicans after the justices earlier on Wednesday declined to fast track a decision on whether to hear a Republican bid to block an extended mail-in ballots deadline in Pennsylvania. Both states are to pivotal to Trump’s re-election chances.
The court’s newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett, a Trump appointee, did not participate in either case. She did not have time to fully review the case filings, a court spokeswoman said in a statement.
The North Carolina dispute is among a number of election-related lawsuits in states around the country over rules governing voting in the Nov. 3 election. Americans are casting early ballots at a record-breaking pace that could lead to the highest voter turnout by percentage in more than a century.
Many states have expanded mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic, with voters wary about the spread of the virus at crowded polling places.
Trump has made unfounded claims that voting by mail – a common practice in U.S. elections – is rife with fraud. Such fraud is exceptionally rare in the United States, according to experts.
The North Carolina dispute was focused on an agreement by the state election board, approved by a state court on Oct. 2, to extend the absentee ballot deadline after advocacy groups filed a legal challenge.
The Trump campaign and state Republicans sought an injunction in federal court but on Oct. 20, in a 12-3 vote, the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the request, saying that under Supreme Court precedent, federal courts must refrain from disturbing state election rules so close to an election.
“The truth of it is if we are really going to get tough with China and we want to try and hurt China’s ability to become this global superpower then we’re going to have to face the facts that in the short term this will cost us too,” he said.
“It’s not something we can do that’s cost-free; it isn’t cost-free but, in terms of strategy, in terms of geopolitics, this is the biggest geopolitical struggle since the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago.”
Farage was optimistic the public would be willing to pay more for non-Chinese made goods likening it to the widespread support for better animal welfare standards leading to higher meat prices.
“We already make these choices now,” he said.
If the UK doesn’t want to be beholden to China, then drugs like antibiotics may need to be manufactured in Britain, or in a friendly country lie Switzerland, he said.
Farage said the pandemic had accelerated the public’s desire to rethink the new globalist order, but this had started with the vote to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as US President in 2016.
“This is a continuation of the same phenomenon … many of the debates we’re having now about what is a nation-state? What is national security? Yep, it’s part of the same game.”
US-China relations have worsened since the coronavirus pandemic emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, as have Trump’s own political fortunes.
Trump has repeatedly referred to it as the Wuhan virus and lashed out at Beijing for not stopping the disease from leaving China. The administration has declared Hong Kong no longer autonomous while Chinese propaganda has increased its criticism and mocking of Trump’s domestic response to the pandemic, with the United States death toll topping 100,000 last week, making it the highest in the world.
But Farage, who is personally close to Trump, warned against writing off his chances of re-election saying he was needed to stop China “effectively taking over the world”.
“If he wasn’t there who would take the lead on this?” Farage said. “Certainly not, certainly not Joe Biden. And Australia on its own is going to find it very difficult to do it; Boris Johnson’s going to need a hell of a lot of kicking to do it; and the European Union are, I’m afraid just appeasers, of China at every level.
“In terms of stopping China effectively taking over the world – whatever people think his faults may be – the reelection of Trump is actually central to it.”
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.