Full of fluff and soundbites: Interview with Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice at the Union
I wanted more meat
On Sunday evening I interviewed Richard Tice, preceding his speech in the Union chamber. Tice is an MEP, chairman of the Brexit Party, and a co-founder of the pro-Brexit campaign groups Leave.EU and Leave Means Leave.
I was charmed at first by Mr Tice. He wasn’t the stuck-up-his-own-arse type I was warily expecting. He was personable and down-to-earth, and shook my hand warmly when he greeted me. When we started the interview, I warmed to his pleasant manner and mild, calm way of addressing me.
I started by asking him what his biggest motivation was behind founding Leave.EU and later, Leave Means Leave. He said:
“I’ve been Eurosceptic for over 20 years. I was involved in the campaign not to join the euro in the late 1990s. I’ve always been anxious about so much control being in the hands of unelected bureaucrats. When it became likely that there was going to be a referendum, I really had to be part of it.”
He sounded reasonable and measured. So far, so good. I then asked him his top three reasons for being in favour of a no-deal Brexit. He said firstly, so we have more sovereignty and control over our laws, secondly, so we can make trade deals with countries outside the EU, and thirdly, so we have control over our borders (paraphrased).
I was very familiar with this trio of reasons. It had formed the basis of the Leave campaign. And that was when I realised Tice was essentially serving as a mouthpiece for the PR campaign that Vote Leave became. His answers were littered with vacuous soundbites which made him come across as smooth and articulate, but upon inspection, you realise they constitute nothing more than fluff. His speech in the Union chamber only confirmed my scepticism.
For example, to illustrate his point about reclaiming our sovereignty, he said we want, “what I call smart laws, not dark laws”. What does that mean? Another phrase he used several times in relation to this same issue was "rules and regulations." The familiar term "control over our borders" in connection with immigration also cropped up a few times, and he kept repeating the phrase “other countries around the world” when talking about forging post-Brexit trade deals, language that to me seemed almost childlike. I heard all of these soundbites again during his speech.
I remember reading a blog by Dominic Cummings titled ‘How the Brexit referendum was won’ (everyone should read this article by the way) and how incredibly disillusioned it made me feel. This lengthy blog post outlines the PR machine behind Vote Leave, revealing that the arguments for Brexit presented to the public were basically advertising slogans, not reflecting the real, gritty debate.
Maybe I’m digressing slightly, but to me, it seems Richard Tice and his Brexit Party epitomise this tendency to skirt around the debate and win people’s support by over-simplifying the arguments.
Continuing with the Cummings theme, I should mention I asked Tice whether he thinks Dominic Cummings really is the Machiavel of 10 Downing Street, as the media invariably portrays him. He said: “The bottom line is, if Dominic’s in a bar, and there’s no one else in the bar, he’ll still have a fight – with himself… And there are moments of brilliance about him but I think if you actually look at what happened in the last two months since they’ve been in Downing Street, actually he hasn’t turned out to be this strategic genius. Lots of things have gone wrong and it’s all very well having a plan to just sort of lob a hand grenade into a pond and see what blows up, but actually he hasn’t had a plan B, C and D.”
This answer was interesting, given Cummings is largely viewed as this evil mastermind pulling all Boris’ strings. The vague, general terms were still there though, there was very little substance to what he was saying. What did Cummings actually do or think? What "things" have gone wrong?
I also asked him about what Farage is like to work with. He said: “Look, I’ve known Nigel for many years now. He’s a good friend. And he’s great to work with. He’s the most experienced political campaigner in this country. His ability to spot where something’s going, ahead of anybody else… extraordinary.”
I then asked him whether Farage’s public face is just a veneer, or the real him.
“What you see is what you get. He just tells it as it is, he doesn’t hold back… love him or hate him, there’s not much in between. He’s good fun, he’s humorous, he’s engaging, he’s got an extraordinary memory for statistics and figures… he’s passionate about military history. He’s a really, really interesting guy. He’s had probably more impact on UK political history in the last generation than any other UK politician.”
This was a really interesting response – because he stopped talking in fluffy terms and actually gave me some meat. It was great to get this perspective on someone like Farage who seems to be either vilified or extolled, with no in-between, in the media and by the public in general.
I rounded off our interview by asking him how certain he is that we will leave the EU next Thursday, on a scale of one to 10.
“Ten being most confident – one. I think it’s extremely unlikely. We will leave at some point, when that is, is impossible to know…look, Johnson is a general leading his troops up the hill, and you have to keep marching them and motivating them, and it is still possible but I think it’s pretty unlikely. And there’s a whole bunch of different factors that will probably prevent that.”
(Note he sadly returned to the vacuous language at the end).
Well. Fortunately or unfortunately, it looks like Johnson’s steadfast determination to get us out by Halloween might prove fruitless…
All photos credited to Eva Maria-Ahrer