Leavers worked very hard for years to secure Brexit – but we were also helped by a string of good luck

By Patrick O’Flynn MEP

A TV advert came out last year starring James Corden as a motorist driving through central London and finding that every single set of traffic lights miraculously favours him.

After cruising through about four sets in a row, a by-now-ecstatic Corden yells: “They call me Mr Green Light!” The advert serves as a useful reminder of how such a random thing as a run of good luck can change outcomes completely.

I was reminded of it while in Westminster last week to take part in the political circus surrounding the triggering of Article 50. Because, let’s be frank, our victory has only partly been down to our collective political genius. It has also depended on an almost freakish number of factors and events having fallen in our favour in the most fruitful sequence.

No wonder many Remainers cannot break out of outright denial about Brexit. It is an occurrence that has come at them at very high speed, leaving them with an acute case of political PTSD. I suspect many re-run what has happened in their minds every day and simply cannot fathom how it happened.

Let me take you through the sheer number of consecutive green lights we have needed so you can fully appreciate what I mean.

Green light number one was staying out of the €uro and that depended on Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party pressurising John Major and the other party leaders into supporting a referendum before entry. Had a stronger conviction politician such as Ken Clarke been PM at the time, there would have been no chance of a referendum lock on the single currency. But as luck would have it, Downing Street was occupied by a balancer rather than a leader, someone who responded to pressure. And as a result, the UK kept its monetary sovereignty and was able to observe the unravelling of the €uro experiment from the semi-detached sidelines.

The next green light was the failure of the Blair Government to impose transitional migration controls following EU enlargement in 2004. The bottom end of the labour market was flooded and talk of wage compression and pressure on public services took hold in working class communities.

Then came the failure of all the main party leaders to honour their commitment to giving a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Naturally a British rejection of Lisbon would have been hugely disruptive to the EU. But the treaty could surely have been repackaged for a second time with some more tweaks to reassure UK public opinion. But no, it was steamrollered through and as a result public resentment built.

The great financial crash of 2008 further built popular resentment against establishment figures and exacerbated the stagnation of living standards that oversupply of labour was already causing.

Then came another hugely important green light for Brexiteers – the formation of the 2010 Conservative-Lib Dem coalition under David Cameron. With Cameron already regarded with suspicion by the Tory base, the sight of him teaming up with Nick Clegg created the conditions for the rise of UKIP. And as well as transferring at least five points from the Tory score into the UKIP column, the very existence of the coalition also transferred ten points from the Lib Dems to Labour.

Another green light soon followed when the crashing of Lords reform by Tory MPs such as Jesse Norman gave Clegg an excuse to rat on boundary changes that Cameron was depending on for the 2015 election.

So Cameron, who like Major before him was a politician who responded to pressure and travelled light ideologically, was placed in the tightest of tight spots. What he had in addition – something the more cunning Major lacked – was a blithe overconfidence in his own ability to get out of such spots. Therefore, against the advice of George Osborne, he promised an In/Out referendum, confident that his brio would win the day, if and when that day ever arrived. A big green light for us there.

The lights were green again at the 2015 general election – with our First Past The Post electoral system delivering an unexpected outright Tory majority on a 37% vote share. Cameron was left with no excuse for not delivering the referendum.

Accordingly, 8th May 2015 was the first time that most people on the liberal left had even bothered to start contemplating having to win a plebiscite on EU membership. Up to that point most had dismissed the very idea of leaving as a fringe concern of a few right-wing Europhobes in the Tory Party and UKIP.

And even then, the early summer polls on EU membership showed Remain leads of 20-25%. Many pundits predicted a Remain landslide. So Labour and the Lib Dems felt able to take their eyes of the ball and plunge energetically into inward-looking party leadership contests. The prospect of a Leave referendum win was considered so remote that Jeremy Corbyn’s long-time opposition to the EU was barely considered relevant by pro-Remain Labour members as they voted him in by a landslide.

Are you getting the idea by now? They call me Mr Green Light!

And more green signals followed: not only did the more broadly appealing Vote Leave campaign win designation as the official Leave campaign (essential to keeping the dream alive), but the more immigration-focused alternatives were liberated to hit the segments of the electorate who responded to their blunter messaging. And nobody could claim collusion or choreography was going on between Vote Leave and Leave.EU because everyone knew that they really did hate each other.

Just as important was Cameron’s botched “renegotiation”. So cocksure was the then PM about his ability to win pragmatic voters around to Remain on economic grounds that he advertised in advance to his EU peer group that he would ultimately accept whatever they offered him. Unsurprisingly, a lousy deal was forthcoming.

Also, both David Cameron and George Osborne took bad reputational hits in the eyes of Labour-inclined voters in the months leading up to the referendum campaign they were destined to lead.

Cameron’s, one vaguely recalls, concerned a slightly trumped up story about his late father’s use of tax havens. Osborne’s concerned benefit cuts and blew up when Iain Duncan Smith resigned from the Cabinet in protest. The appeal of Osborne in particular to sectors of the electorate that Remain needed to turn out was much reduced. And while Osborne allegedly had been damning about the intellectual capacity of IDS, there is little doubt about who outsmarted whom on this occasion.

So Remain was left with a derided renegotiation and an undercooked campaign led by two Tory posh boys and involving almost zero input from the ambivalent leader of the Labour Party. Even during the campaign itself some crucial luck broke our way when postal vote ballots dropped on a day when record immigration figures led the news.

When polling day itself dawned it should have come as no surprise that torrential rain unloaded on London – depressing turnout in the Remain heartland.

So, my fellow Leavers, as well as recalling our heroic hard work and strategic brilliance, let us also try to understand rather better the trauma of our Remainer friends who were beaten before they even properly realised they were in a fight that they might lose.

One can only conclude that somebody up there must like us. I give you Article 50, courtesy of Mr Green Light.

This article first appeared on the Brexit Central website and is used by permission

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  1. Derek ReynoldsReply

    “Green light”? More like ducking through Ambers – on both sides!
    Patrick O’Flynn MEP – you’re fired!

  2. John ScutterReply

    Great assessment Patrick well done and thank you for joining UKIP. Although I would add, I recently came across a paper, dated quite some time before the referendum which gave the figures of 52% of people in favour of leaving .

  3. Victor HopeReply

    I expect many may have the O’Flynn outlook of a lucky dip of events that just fell into place!
    That may satisfy some.

    He does acknowledge the thin purple line and the others who were at their posts possibly even since the 1970s.

    There are however others who look back at the 1939 – 45 era and see a deliverance of our Nation from almost certain defeat.

    I would rather invoke God Almighty than “Mr Green Light” although the Green Light mentality prevails these days

    Even UKIP could not screw Brexit up .

    PS … thank you to the NEC and MEPs of UKIP you played a blinder !!!!!!!!!!
    It wasn’t luck with you guys on the job.

  4. Phil JonesReply

    Those of us who worked so very hard for so many years to return the UK to being a country had horseshoes and four-leaf clovers. Like winning the Lottery. And the odds of so many events turning in our favour, as set out in this excellent commentary, were about on par with winning a lottery or throwing 7s on a pair of dice 10 times in a row. Despite the incredible odds, the UK will be returning to be a country rather than slipping still further into oblivion and assimilation and integration as part of a federal Europe dream of a small political elite.

  5. Mr J.GravinaReply

    The horror of the tsunami of displaced and Economic refugees heading hopefully for the UK, but left stranded at Calais was another green light for Brexit.

  6. Roger GoughReply

    Shortly after my ex-wife’s 2nd divorce, I took her out for dinner to ‘ease the pain!’ She let me drink – and so she drove. On the outskirts of Swindon there is a section of road about 2 miles long with a number of traffic lights positioned at intersections. They usually prove irritating, incurring as they do many seemingly unnecessary stops in one’s journey. We travelled back along this (by now dark) stretch at about 01.30hrs and ‘Mr Green Light’ was in evidence. I commented that she was a lucky driver. She replied that she wasn’t lucky – she knew what she was doing. Flashing her headlights about 120 -150 yards before each set of lights made them change to green and allowed an uninterrupted journey. She was smarter than I had thought. ‘Remainers’ hopefully now consider the same to be true about ‘Leavers’.

  7. steven burtonReply

    Well, Patrick, good job a lot of us did not just rely on our representatives, re ; Carswell, Evans, who took opposite stance to Nigel, our hero. Douglas Carswell has now left UKIP, but ‘willingly’ .. not THROWN OUT. Diane James was ‘bullied’ out by UKIP top members who are still not named. The leadership contest was a complete farce with members only allowed to vote for Paul Nuttall, who stated previously he was not interested, or Suzanne Evans, an ex-BBC ‘LUVVIE’ favoured by the media as Suzanne was as good as an inside ‘mole’ for the remainers. UKIP could have taken a new way with trying John Reese-Evans and new ideas but to me, and we have met, I am now under the impression UKIP top staff are deliberately NOT PROGRESSING. Since the referendum nearly every person that was among the ‘leaders’ of Brexit has been destroyed, politically, except Nigel Farage, who, very sensibly went ‘away’ from UKIP for this interval, so nothing could be linked between his position and UKIP. Therefore .. when, not if, when we get the second referendum WE HAVE NO LEADER. Back to the start. GOOD JOB MANY OF US VOLUNTEERS SIMPLY GAVE OUR OWN OPINION TO RESIDENTS ON THE DOORSTEPS. This was not ‘luck’ .. this was personal knowledge of the many problems across each part of the country given freely by Leave UNPAID volunteers . But, thank you for at least this post, as generally now UKIP SEEMS TO BE HIBERNATING, EVEN THOUGH ELECTIONS ARE VERY CLOSE.

  8. John CollinsReply

    I am concerned that the Prime Minister is compromising Brexit by her prevarication. Whilst realising that precipitous actions are not the best way forward, I consider that a little more pressure needs to be applied to make Germany (which is co-ordinating and dictating the EU stance on the negotiations) be more proactive. I have the considered opinion that the Germans are adopting their usual method whereby they are either at your throat or at your feet (grovelling); the British negotiators need to significantly undermine the EU position.

  9. Gordon WebsterReply

    Like most politicians and pundits Patrick, you leave out ONE important factor in the Leave success – The British People.
    The British People educated themselves on British Constitution and Law. The learned from Blackstone and Dicey, and they learned about Lord Kilmuir’s Letter to Edward Heath. The British People learned that Politicians and Governments were not the Sovereign of Britain, but only enjoyed Temporary Legislative Sovereignty, and that The People were Absolute Sovereign. They educated themselves about the EU, and that it was to be a United States of Europe without their permission. They educated themselves about the Presidents Report, and the coming EU Constitution, and that they were to have no say in this. Cameron, to be fully Legal and Constitutional had to have that Referendum. He had to scare the British People into giving away what only they could give away – British Sovereignty.
    Cameron’s ploy failed, because the now educated British People took to Social Media, and they spread their new found knowledge of their Legal Rights under The Constitution to others. The British People went out onto the streets and fought for what was theirs. We can thank Mr Cameron for his failed gamble, because he succeeded in waking everyone up to the EU Kleptocracy, and the damage its Central Planning had done to their country and their jobs. Our Mining, Shipbuilding, Steel, Heavy Engineering, Car Industry and Fishing closed down, while the country was flooded with cheap labour driving wages down. They didn’t like it, and realised that they did have a voice.

  10. robin lambertReply

    I worked with Libertarians of ”Right” and ”Left” I was abused in Greenwich & Oxford St, but a Small price to pay.At the Evening Standard debate (May 2016),a Dutch ‘Leave’ Supporter told me to have faith,he was 30,he said UK had ‘Saved’ Europe twice before,why not a Third time?
    My home city football team,had just Won the Premier title (ie Old Division 1) at 5,000/1 i believed it
    possible despite Constant pro EU barrage of BBC,ITV,Sky & Most newspapers (exc Daily Express,Daily mail)
    Leave could confound the pundits again ( Prof John Curtois except,of strathcyle University).
    LBC,BBC Radio London were almost hysterical why UK must vote to stay on the TTIP ‘Gravytrain’ for
    the Political Class. We won….excellent Lexit DVD & Brexit DVD & by Campaign FIB.

    I am Suspicious of Lib-lab-Con-SF-PC-SNP-Green-UKIP I am Now an Independent having stood in General Elections of 2005,2010,& by myself in 2015,Local byelection in 2016.
    The democratic deficit at Westminster such as Whip system of patronage & Unelected 2nd Chamber need addressing. It is sad Diane James,Steve Woolfe were intimidated out of UKIP.but they Are Independent Now.

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