I’m famed for my mustard cords. Back in 2013, the press mockingly dubbed my campaign trips around the country in a purple London taxi the ‘Mustard Trouser Express’. Photographers everywhere still cry, ‘Nigel, when do we go to the pub?’ They want that ‘pint shot’ of course, and they always know they are on to something when they get to see a little flash of yellow-clad corrugated calf.
I’ve helped organise a March to Leave, which will arrive in Parliament Square this Friday, the day Britain was meant to leave the EU. The march — which travelled from Sunderland — has been the perfect opportunity to wear the trusty corduroys once again. Unfortunately, the snappers were in for a let-down when they arrived in the north-east. Along the heritage coast, it rained every step of the way, and I was swathed in the longest of South Shields’s finest ankle-length, waxed cotton jackets. It keeps off the worst British weather, as it does the worst protests from Remain supporters, who bleat about ‘sticking Brexit up your Farage’. Their yelps were drowned out by the good cheer of our marchers.
I did find time for a pint, away from Fleet Street’s finest, who had dissolved into Durham drizzle. I snuck off for a sharpener as the march wound through Easington Colliery. The 20-mile trek was beginning to take it out of my shins. Thanks to a car accident in my twenties, they look as if they were moulded by Henry Moore and can smart a bit. I slotted back into the walk after my pint and continued on to Hartlepool. I’d given my word and there could be no slacking.
It isn’t just Theresa May who goes hill-walking. I do mine in England and spend my time thinking about how I can help bring our country its freedom. She spends her time wandering across the Swiss Alps, dreaming up ways to give her country away. I’ve met some great people on this march. A week into the event, as we walked from Mansfield, I was delighted to chat to the Grant sisters, Bea and Alice. They are first-time voters and committed Brexiteers. To the horror of many, they also happen to be bright, pretty girls. Yes, intelligent young women do support Brexit. The Remain side don’t have complete ownership of Britain’s youth. Journalists have been trying to find out more about their identity. There have been claims made that these girls are hired Russian models, that they’re ringers, only turning up at Leave events because someone is paying them. Though flattering, the truth is far more prosaic. They are just ordinary young women excited by the prospect of a free UK. They are an inspiration to me; it’s their future that I’m working for.
After the referendum, I retired from active party politics, saying I wanted my life back. And I’ve had a great deal of fun since. Better still, I no longer have to resolve arguments between association chairmen and branch secretaries over how to fold the napkins at their work Christmas dinners and so on. But I’ve watched in dismay as Ukip, the machine that won the last European elections and scared the legacy parties into offering the British people a referendum, has descended into a bunker of its own making. By focusing on radical Islam, it has restricted its ability to get the votes needed to keep Westminster honest.
So, with some reluctance, I’m strapping on the breastplate again and am going to lead the Brexit party. It is very odd, though, to be involved in a party whose sole desire is not to exist. If Westminster took instructions from the people of this country, rather than those around the Rond-Point Schuman in Brussels, we wouldn’t need to reform. Since we launched, we’ve had a huge range of impressive people getting in touch: Greens, Labour, Tories — all wanting a free, democratic UK. We don’t want to fight another battle, but if we have to, we’ve got the heart, we’ve got the people and we’ll have the money too. And this time, it’s no more Mr Nice Guy.
When I caught the Eurostar to Brussels last week to witness the national embarrassment that unfolded, a gentleman introduced himself. He was a very senior representative from the pharmaceutical industry in Europe. He said he and his industry largely supported Remain, but (and this view is much more common than Westminster-watchers would have you believe), the vote happened and Leave won. I asked whether his industry was prepared for no deal. ‘Yes,’ he answered. Business is mostly ready; it’s what business does. It’s only Westminster that is unprepared.
At the summit, nobody could believe Theresa May was really our Prime Minister. In the bars afterwards, journalists from across Europe joked with me, asking if she was the best we’ve got. A national humiliation has become an international one.