The Alliance of British Entrepreneurs (ABE) and Leave Means Leave (LML) have issued a joint statement supported by 300 plus business owners – businesses large and small – asking for a managed no-deal exit from the EU. The reaction to this from Jim Pickard of the FT has reminded me why I chose, at great personal cost, to campaign to leave the EU – unbelievably a decision I took three years ago and still it goes on. Jim, a sharp and competent journalist, has chosen to belittle sole trader entrepreneurs, who actually make up a substantial proportion of the economy. This reaction is a classic one of our establishment.
Looking back in fairness, I had always been a eurosceptic, albeit also a regular visitor for over thirty five years to the Brussels bureaucratic machine and actually with some very good friends within the matrix that is the EU.
As Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and in 2014 anticipating the EU debate, I set about with the researchers and economists at the BCC to find out the facts about the UK economy, politics and the EU in all its aspects: trade, regulation, migration, sovereignty etc. Much of this I knew from forty years in international business, but I was shocked by some of the results in areas with which I was not familiar. For example, our look into migration and population trends pointed towards half of the UK population being migrants or the children of migrants by 2040, a very rapid transition which would no doubt change and challenge the nature, values and culture of British society forever. The lack of official insight was shocking, one might suspect even deliberate, but such as it was, it pointed to a substantial burden on taxpayers arising from migrant workers in low-skilled jobs.
In 2015, when David Cameron declared he would start negotiations with the EU, I wrote to him on behalf of the BCC an open letter, setting out our expectations from this process. When he returned, as I had anticipated, we at the BCC were able to issue a statement in January 2016 indicating that his efforts had fallen far short of our expectations. The scene was set.
My major concern personally (as for the majority of Brexit supporters I have met) was that of sovereignty, which I had seen eroded over the decades to the point where the UK Parliament was appearing to be the equivalent of a county council in relation to the EU. It is ironic that the Parliament that allowed this to happen without any real resistance from the majority of MPs has kicked up such a fuss about leaving – perhaps this is as good a sign as any of a renewed democratic vigour!
But what really turned me into a campaigner, however, was the overwhelming arrogance of our establishment. The start of 2016 witnessed the all-out assault of Project Fear and the bullying by No. 10 of organisations like mine. It demonstrated an absolute desire to treat the “little people” with contempt and that our “more intelligent” “betters” had no compunction in lying grievously, or at least no respect for the facts unless they supported their world vision and vested interests. That is what led me to resign from the BCC to fight the referendum as Chairman of the Vote Leave Business Council.
The arrogance of the elite was brought home to me when giving a presentation in Brussels in January 2016 to an audience of senior EU officials. To my astonishment, the first question from the floor was to ask how we could possibly contemplate allowing people who are not college-educated to vote in a referendum, which was met by murmurs of approval from around the room.
In my many lunches with Lord Heseltine in his role within the Business Department, mentoring Greg Clark and directing people, it became clear that he considered democracy to be merely a tool, a rubber stamp for the will of the ruling class, a way of obtaining “buy in” so as to effect a smooth delivery. This I witnessed again and again amongst what is the new establishment of the liberal, metropolitan elite, no longer the noblesse oblige of landed classes of yesteryear.
One of the first pieces I wrote for the press during the referendum campaign was for the Evening Standard. It compared the mutiny of the Brexiteers to the Medieval Peasants’ Revolt. I ended the piece by warning that the establishment are vicious in pursuit of their own vested interests and so it has proved to be.
I came to mistrust our establishment so much that I continued to campaign even after we won the referendum with Leave means Leave – and a good job it is that we continued our vigilance, since there has been a determined effort by the establishment to reverse Brexit, to ignore democracy, simply because it doesn’t suit them.
The reaction of the FT to the statement by business supporters of the ABE and LML calling for no deal was just such a continuation of the dismissal of “the little people” who inconveniently just happen to be voters.
The statement fits very well with my experience of business, large swathes of which want to leave the EU. Many dare not stick their heads above the parapet, so viscous has been the Remainer backlash. Those that are willing and able tend to be business owners, entrepreneurs large and small. Not, you will note, the salary men who run the corporate multinationals, focused on their bonuses and the three-year cycle before they move on.
Family-owned or -run businesses make up the vast majority of the UK economy from sole traders to large companies. They trade around the world and domestically. They are the backbone of the economy. They are the innovators and risk takers. They are the future. Watch out establishment, they don’t believe in you anymore.
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