The Spectator’s Toby Young on What’s Next for Britain
In 1975, when British voters had to decide whether or not to remain in the European Community, which eventually became the European Union (EU), The Spectator was only one of two national news publications to “(back) what is now called Brexit.”
During this year’s campaign leading up to the June 23 referendum, Young played an active part in the Brexit cause. Nine days before the vote, he released a short film titled “Brexit: Facts, Not Fear,” in which he made the case for leaving the EU by focusing “exclusively on the sovereignty argument.”
According to this view, Great Britain’s membership in the EU had stripped the country of its legal independence and undermined Parliament by transferring much of its traditional powers to a foreign body, which is controlled by the non-elected bureaucrats who form the European Commission.
The day before the referendum, Young’s film, whose title made reference to “Project Fear,” the establishment’s campaign to scare voters into backing the Remain side, had been watched nearly 1 million times on social media.
After Leave’s victory in the referendum, Lord Ashcroft, a pollster, published the results of a survey which showed that most Brexit supporters chose to leave the EU due to “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK.”
In other words, it was the sovereignty argument and not anti-immigration sentiments — as much of the uninformed US media has wrongly suggested — that won the day for the Leave side.
- Read More: Brexit: Other European Nations Caused It and British Politics Made It Inevitable
- Read More: What Comes after Brexit? Not the End of the United Kingdom
During the last few days, the British public has witnessed a series of cataclysmic political events in what the The Daily Telegraph has called “the most infamous, treacherous week in Tory history.”
Toby Young has known the protagonists for years, being interviewed, for instance, in a film about the long-standing rivalry between Prime Minister David Cameron and former London mayor Boris Johnson, both of whom he met as a student at Oxford. He even made a £15,000 bet with Nigella Lawson, daughter of Nigel Lawson, Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1983 to 1989, wagering that Johnson would be leader of the Conservative Party before 2018, a scenario that now looks rather unlikely.
Young has also been a long-time supporter of Michael Gove, who as Secretary of Education from 2010 to 2014 took on the teachers unions and introduced the “free schools revolution,” which involved the creation of state-funded schools run completely by parents and independent associations, not the state itself.
Gove, who is now Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, is running for the leadership of the Conservative Party — and hence for the post of Prime Minister of Great Britain — after having removed his previous support for Boris Johnson, the initial favorite, at the last minute.
This is what Young had to say to the PanAm Post about Britain’s post-Brexit future.
PanAm Post: You have been a supporter of both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. What do you think drove Gove to change his mind about backing Boris as leader of the Conservative Party and was that the best decision for the party?
Toby Young: On the face of it, it looks as if Michael changed his mind about Boris’s suitability for the job of Prime Minister during the short period he was Boris’s campaign manager. The timing was unfortunate because it meant Boris had to withdraw, but if the end result is Michael becoming the next Prime Minister that is the best outcome for the country.
Will Gove have divided the Conservative Leavers with his decision to run? Will he stand a chance against Home Secretary Theresa May?
At the moment, Michael is 7/1 and Theresa is the hot favourite, but, as we’ve seen in the last week, a lot can change in British politics from one hour to the next. If a big beast declares for Gove – (Chancellor of the Exchequer) George Osborne, for instance – that could change everything.
If Theresa May becomes Prime Minister, how can she negotiate the precise terms of Brexit having backed Remain during the referendum campaign?
Good question! The difficulty for her is that if she makes any concessions during the negotiation – particularly on the sticky issue of free movement – she’ll immediately be accused of “betraying” the 17.5 million people who voted for Brexit. Paradoxically, a true believer in the Brexit cause would find it easier to compromise.
You and Daniel Hannan, a British Member of the European Parliament, among others can be considered classical liberal supporters of Leave, and a Norway-type deal for the UK would presumably suit you. UKIP leader Nigel Farage and his followers, on the other hand, would like strict controls over immigration which could endanger Britain’s access to free trade with Europe. How can this dilemma among British eurosceptics be solved?
The compromise will be an end of the free movement of people and, instead, a modified version of the free movement of labour that was in place pre-Maastricht, and by “modified” I mean the British government should be granted some small degree of latitude about the type and number of migrants admitted each year.
I can see this becoming an EU-wide reform, not just a feature of Britain’s new settlement with the EU.
Indeed, if it comes soon enough, it may mean we don’t end up leaving. Free movement in its current form is politically toxic and poisoning the whole European project.
Do you see a political realignment in Britain after Brexit, especially given Labour’s current turmoil? Is columnist Peter Hitchens on to something when he suggests that Labour voters who rejected the EU could join a new, socially conservative party?
It’s certainly possible that millions of working class Labour voters will come over to the Conservatives, particularly if the Labour Party is re-captured by the Europeanised, metropolitan elite.
I don’t see the Conservative Party becoming more socially conservative, though. It has long been economically liberal and it became more socially liberal under David Cameron, who legalized same-sex marriage. None of the frontrunners in the Conservative leadership election are social conservatives. The Gove-May battle is between a classical liberal and a pragmatic liberal.