It’s election time once again, but instead of wannabe councillors knocking at your doors and littering you hallways with election leaflets, it’s the turn of those who want your vote to send them to the EU parliament (or not, as we are about to find out).
In the weeks running up to the election, one party has surged ahead in the polls. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is widely expected to do rather well, gaining votes from disaffected ‘leave’ supporters.
Claire Fox, a self identified left-wing libertarian writer and commentator, is the Brexit Party’s lead candidate in the North West region. Mancunian Matters sat down with the often controversial candidate while campaigning in Greater Manchester.
MM: You’re something of a unique candidate for the Brexit Party given that you say you are traditionally more on the left-wing. What made you decide to stand for a party fronted by Nigel Farage?
CF: I voted to leave European Union and quite a lot of people on the left did. It’s certainly quite a strong left-wing tradition around Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, ironically. But not just them. There’s always been a real left-wing critique of the EU and I expected, like probably most people, that although the establishment weren’t going to be very happy, that they would leave the EU.
It has become apparent to me, that wasn’t happening. Not only that but in the process of wriggling out of this and all sorts of attempts at doing anything but leaving and doing Brexit by any other name. I could see it growing disillusionment with democracy and more and more people just feeling that their votes have been sidelined.
If you’re on the left, you spend a lot of time talking about projects that are going to give a voice to people who are excluded from society and then you have a situation where the largest turnout in any election in British history produces a result created by a lot of those voices that everybody spends the whole time patronising and saying, we want to hear you and then said the wrong thing.
I felt that the damage to democracy would be immense if somebody didn’t stand up and defend it. I would have really liked a left-wing organisation to emerge that did that, but it didn’t. You have to give Farage credit, he’s gathered a wide variety of candidates. Second in the Northwest is a Danish socialist dentist. He refused, on principle, to work with private patients; this is a different kind of group.
I felt I didn’t want Nigel Farage to be seen as the only kind of political force that was defending democracy.
MM: The Brexit Party currently don’t have a manifesto or any policies outside of Brexit. How will you reconcile your beliefs with the more right-wing elements of the party when it comes to other issues?
CF: That will be the million dollar question afterwards. But the point is, for now, it’s not a question.
In view of the fact that the two main political parties have got manifestos, both of which said they were going to leave the European Union and decided to ignore them. You could say the manifesto is not worth the paper it’s written on.
Top candidate Gary and I. Not a milkshake but someone did buy me a coffee for my efforts pic.twitter.com/kLnwARgqrU
— Claire Fox (@Fox_Claire) May 22, 2019
If you look at the broad church of the Conservative Party, or the broad church of the Labour Party, both of them are in the middle of a civil war. You can’t guarantee they’re going to go in any particular way and that includes on social and economic issues.
MM: Those campaigning for a ‘peoples vote’ argue that it can’t be undemocratic to have a second referendum on the Brexit deal. What would you say to that argument?
CF: This is the greatest anti-democratic trend that we’ve seen that people want to have a second referendum before the first one has been enacted.
I don’t expect that everybody who’s passionate about staying in the EU going to change their minds when that’s a reasonable point. But you this referendum was called in a very particular way. It was called by the Conservatives, backed up by all the political parties saying this was once in a lifetime vote.
MM: Do you have any issues with pushing for a no deal Brexit?
CF: First of all, I think that there could have been a deal done. I think that it was feasible that a deal could have been done. I don’t think that anyone made an attempt to organise or negotiate a hard deal. I was a trade union negotiator.
There is nothing about the way that we conducted ourselves in Europe that would indicate that we’d get anything like a deal. So I would have been happy to have accepted the compromise deal. Theresa May’s deal is not a compromise deal. It’s a treaty that ties us in even more savagely with less room to manoeuvre than as members of the EU.
I do believe that no deal is better than a bad deal. We’ve only got a bad deal that has been rejected; we should leave with no deal.
Now, there will be some arguments to be had about WTO rules. There’s no doubt about that. But part of a risk when you leave something like the European Union, is that you have to experiment and take those risks. Larry Elliot, a left-wing economist and Guardian writer, says that WTO rules are nothing to be afraid of. It’s got the potential to be exhilarating and interesting.
MM: What do you say to businesses in Northern Ireland and the Irish community in the North West who are concerned about the border?
CF: Well, they won’t be able to trade as fluidly. That is the cost of leaving the EU. But that doesn’t mean that the border has become a hard border.
Simon Coveney, the Irish Foreign Minister, was at one point saying, “we’re not going to impose this if there is a no deal”, and then suddenly it becomes an issue. I feel as though that issue has been used as a way of trying to ensure that Brexit doesn’t happen.
MM: Organisations such as the Ulster Farmers Union have long expressed the impact no deal would have on agriculture.
CF: One would have wanted a deal that was least disruptive in some ways. But the point I’m making is there is no deal. Its three years down the line. And there’s a bigger question now. If you have a referendum, for example, for the Good Friday Agreement and then the ones said “oh, we’re ignoring that, take no notice of that referendum”. You can’t do that. Right? We live in a democratic society.
MM: Many have argued that if we did go for a no deal Brexit, it does have the potential to disrupt the Good Friday Agreement.
CF: What I’m saying is, is that I don’t think that this decision to Brexit was taken with any intention of disrupting peace in Northern Ireland in any way whatsoever.
MM: Do you think it was taken with consideration for it?
CF: It was not as big a deal then. It wasn’t even as big a deal in all the debates I did with ‘Remainers’ in the build up to the referendum. It barely got mentioned.
MM: What is your response to Colin Parry who has called on you to step down over your refusal to apologise for your former party’s (Revolutionary Communist Party) defence of the IRA bombing of Warrington in 1993?
CF: When I stood to get involved in politics, one of the things I was never going to do was going to be one of the people who was going to renounce my former views in order to play an electoral game.
I was involved in the Irish freedom movement and anti-imperialist organisation and at that time, I believed those views firmly and sincerely and I thought it was a bloody terrible war. I’m glad it’s over. I welcome the peace that came with a Good Friday Agreement.
What people want me to do is renounce. I mean, I never did anything by the way. You already mentioned, perfectly reasonably, the Sinn Fein ‘remain’ supporters from the north of Ireland who are not asked at the same standard of public scrutiny as I am when I never did anything and they’re part of an organisation.
MM: Martin McGuinness did end up condemning that attack and did speak at the Peace Centre in Warrington.
CF: Which is one of the reasons I’ve always admired Colin Parry and I have never supported that bomb by the way.
I was involved in a group that was calling for troops out of Ireland and Irish freedom a long time ago. This has been used by people, not Colin Parry of course, who are not supporters of where I stand on democracy at the moment, but some other people have been dragged into it.
It’s horrible what’s being said about what I say on social media. And I could spend my life saying that I do not support the murder of two innocent children in Warrington, which, of course I didn’t support. But I was asked to condone and condemn the organisation statements that I was in then. And I just think that’s politics as it should never be done.
MM: Finally, why should the people of Greater Manchester support the Brexit Party and not other ‘leave’ parties like the Conservatives or UKIP?
CF: Well, not UKIP, because they’re a bunch of racists and Tommy Robinson, you know, scumbag. Sorry, but true.
One of the reasons I am standing for the Brexit Party is it’s not UKIP mark 2 and the issues around race and immigration and some of the disgusting stuff that’s been argued by some of the people around UKIP has little support.
MM: That party was led by your leader for over a decade.
CF: Well, first of all, he left it and he set up a different party. And when you say “my party leader”, Farage is running the Brexit Party with a very wide selection of people around a very particular issue. If I’d have thought there was any hint, even the slightest hint of racism involved in the Brexit Party in any way I wouldn’t have stood, and there isn’t.
The Conservative and Labour Party, local MEPs, they’re all standing on the second referendum. And I think that’s contemptuous of people’s democratic decision. I really think it’s dangerous to remove the ballot box from people, you lead people to faster in disillusion with democracy, that’s not a good place to be, politically. So I think that you need to turn this into a very positive move, a positive step forward.