Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Claire Fox


NIALL PATERSON: On Friday morning Boris Johnson woke up to the news that his majority had been cut to just one, thanks to the Lib Dems victory in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. Remain supporting parties clubbed together and won, had the Brexit party stood aside the Tories may have prevailed so the message seems to be ‘Vote Brexit Party and thwart Brexit’. Well I’m sure someone who will have a view on this is the Brexit Party’s MEP for the North-West, Claire Fox. Claire, good to see you again. There is a degree of truth in that narrative isn’t there? I mean it’s certainly what happened in Brecon, the Brexit Party votes had they been given to the Conservative candidates which, you know, in other times it would have been their natural home, would have led to a Conservative MP being returned to Parliament at a time when you’ve got the most Brexity Conservative leader we’ve had in a while.

CLAIRE FOX: Well it’s great to have a Brexity Conservative leader, it’s about time and he’s only been in post for a while so he’s talking the good talk but I’ve yet to see whether he’s going to deliver and I think that what happened in Brecon, I think this idea that the voters who voted for the Brexit Party are naturally Conservative party voters, I mean if the Conservative party think that they’re arrogance has not yet been abated. A lot of the people who voted for the Brexit Party in Brecon would have been Labour voters actually and can we just remember the circumstances of that by-election. It was first of all called because somebody had been involved in an expenses scandal, the same Conservative party decided that that candidate should be the best that could be offered to Brecon back, I mean you know this shows a certain contempt to the voters before you start …

NP: But there are a number of marginals which are quite similar to Brecon, the idea that there will be competition between Conservative and party of the left, in which if the Brexit Party takes votes away from the Conservatives – and they are certainly billing themselves as the party to deliver Brexit now which they have done in the past of course but if you take those votes you are making Brexit less likely.

CLAIRE FOX: No, so we all know that you can sit and have a calculation about what might happen in a general election, it depends when that general election might be called, which we don’t yet know but I think there’s something peculiar and actually really offensive about the idea that you have a party that says okay Brexit Party, you can stand down now, we’ve now got a Conservative party that is talking a good talk on Brexit. If the Brexit Party didn’t exist, Theresa May would still be running the Conservative party it seems. If you remember the circumstances in which it was born as a party, Brexit was more or less thwarted and over so you have to say that the role of the Conservative party continues to be to argue for a clean Brexit, to carry on arguing for democracy and the members of that democratic mandate that was about to be thwarted, Brexit voters were being traduced. I am delighted that Boris Johnson has got a campaign team and a Cabinet made up of Brexit supporters but the idea that anyone treats the Brexit Party as a kind of junior wing of the Tory party that can be dismissed because we’ve done our job doesn’t understand that we have something much more profound happening in British politics today.

NP: I take your point but at the same time apparently ten Conservative MPs have approached the Brexit party and suggested, do you know what guys, it might be a good idea if you do what happened on the left, on the centre left in Brecon, step aside and give us a clear run at it.

CLAIRE FOX: Yes so the point about practising ‘give us a clear ride’ is one of the things that could have happened at the Peterborough by-election was that the Conservative party could have stood aside and given the Brexit Party a clear ride because the Tory party came nowhere in the Peterborough by-election and the Brexit party came a very close second.

NP: But that is never going to happen. It’s not going to happen or it could happen?

CLAIRE FOX: Of course it could, I’m saying it depends on the election but I also think, can we just move away from this idea that any party owns Brexit and that includes the Brexit Party by the way. I think every single party, I mean the Tory party certainly can’t go around saying we’re the natural home of Brexit. I want them to deliver, the Brexit Party however does appeal more often in the north as you have just been talking about the north, there are a lot of people, Labour leavers who think very strongly I’d have thought of voting for the Conservatives so what I say is it is more complicated than simply being told to go away when in fact the Tory party – they have only been talking this talk for ten days.

NP: That’s true and the Brexit Party has just been around for a little longer than that. You have mentioned several times now the prospect of a general election later this year, if that happens what are the policy platforms on which the Brexit Party will be campaigning beyond Brexit at all costs?

CLAIRE FOX: Yes, so one of the things that has been really nice about the very limited policy discussion put forward by the Brexit Party – God knows it’s not a fully formed manifesto – but we did focus on saying there has to be major infrastructure industrial changes in the north and one of the things you could say that’s what it announced, just been announced. It is part of a recognition that comes out of the whole vote for leave that there are huge swathes of the country that need to be developed and then …

NP: Okay, we’ve just had Henri Murison on from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, where does the Brexit Party support for the big infrastructure spend project that they say will get us closer to the Powerhouse ideal?

CLAIRE FOX: Where does the money come from?

NP: No, what is the Brexit Party’s position on HS2?

CLAIRE FOX: Well it’s announced its position, it said cancel HS2 and have a different kind of infrastructural growth in transport.

NP: How can you pick up votes in the north if that’s your position?

CLAIRE FOX: Of cancelling HS2?

NP: Mm-mm.

CLAIRE FOX: Well first of all I haven’t met very many people who are enthusiastically cheering for HS2. One of the big things is that there has to be much better transport links but I wanted to talk about the broader policy issues that you just asked me about because I think what the Brexit Party has got going for it is that it said politics should be done differently and everywhere I’ve gone in the north-west where I was campaigning, people said they were fed up of two party politics, we’re stuck in a kind of one way [inaudible]. The Brexit Party could hire in some very slick PR people, develop their policies in a London office and present them all very nicely but it’s argued that it should be bottom up and I think that’s very popular.

NP: Isn’t part of the reason that you don’t have a fully fleshed out policy portfolio is because, as things stand, the Brexit Party is a collection of people with very disparate political views from Marxism to whatever you actually … Libertarianism at the moment. You look at others within your party and I think you would struggle to describe yourself in either of those two ways.

CLAIRE FOX: I agree and the thing that holds us all together is a commitment to democracy and believing in popular sovereignty and national sovereignty which nobody else seems to be bothered about until recently. So what we’re trying to do is build a new kind of politics. That’s what I think the people don’t understand. If people say all that the Brexit Party should be is some kind of Tory lite version or should come up with politics done the same old way, why can’t you have a bottom up policy discussion? We’re going to have national conversations, we’re out for opening up the discussions, guess what, to the voters. What a shock that is. There might be the possibility you know that you could shake up politics because one thing that has been revealed by the Brexit vote or rather, the inability of the mainstream parties and Parliament to deliver it, is what we’ve got now is an opportunity to redo politics. People have seen the complete barrenness of major institutions, the House of Lords, first past the post not really working, the media dare I say it, major institutions now up for question. Lots of people are actually asking more profound questions about what post-Brexit Britain might look like and the first job of the Brexit Party is make sure Brexit’s delivered and if that involves, by the way, electoral pacts that might happen. Maybe the Tory party might, instead of telling the Brexit Party what to do, make an approach to the Brexit Party and say I’ll tell you what, we’ll stand aside in certain areas. That would be a very positive thing for me, let’s work together for a new kind of politics. I’m quite excited.

NP: You certainly seem it. Claire Fox, thanks for joining us on the show.