Ten politicians who claimed Brexit negotiations were going to be easy

Ten politicians who claimed Brexit negotiations were going to be easy

The UK was supposed to be leaving the European Union at 11pm on Friday 29 March 2019. But now we're not.

At the time of writing - just over two years after the UK triggered Article 50 - we remain as hopelessly ensnared in Brexit deadlock as ever before, with each "meaningful vote" on Theresa May's dog-eared Withdrawal Agreement less meaningful than the last.

Eight alternative amendments have been debated and voted on in the House of Commons. All eight have been duly rejected after failing to come close to securing a majority.

Our departure deadline has been extended to midnight on 12 April and looks set to be pushed back even further.

A living nightmare of the most tediously bureaucratic kind.

But it wasn't supposed to be this way.

The ardent Leavers who campaigned with Nigel Farage in the spring of 2016 ahead of the referendum repeatedly reassured the British public that negotiating a fair deal with the EU would be easy, as simple as crash-landing a private plane in a field en route to a polling station.

But as the Led by Donkeys account on Twitter has so deftly shown, our fearless leaders have made a lot of empty promises about Brexit and thoroughly deserve to be haunted by their words.

Here are 11 politicians whose blithe pronouncements about the ease with which we could divorce our continental partners have been shown to be totally and utterly wrong.

1. Nigel Farage

Since triumphantly raising a pint on the morning of the referendum result (before hurriedly racing around the TV studios to say the Leave campaign's Brexit bus NHS funding pledge had been a "mistake" and would not be happening), Farage has come a long way over the last two-and-a-half years.

He told the BBC on 20 September 2016:

To me, Brexit's easy. We have back British passports, we have control of our fishing waters, and our companies are not subject to EU law through the single market.

But by 27 March 2017, he was already in panic mode, reassuring his red-faced acolytes with this bold pledge:

If Brexit is a disaster, I will go and live abroad, I will go and live somewhere else.

He's now regretting those ill-chosen words. Perhaps Donald Trump will let him sleep in his gold elevator.

Farage's rhetoric has changed significantly since he stepped away from UKIP, so much so in fact that he told listeners to his LBC radio show on 29 May last year:

I made one absolute promise in that campaign. We will be in control, for good or for bad, I never promised it would be a huge success, I never said it would be a failure, I just said we'd be in control.

Sure you did, Nigel. Sure you did.

By 9 June 2018, he was reduced to hitting out at Theresa May on BBC Radio 4's 'Today'programme, fretting:

“We have the got wrong leader. If we had a leader who actually believed in Brexit and was prepared to see there was a vision for the future we could make a success of it.

“We will finish up perhaps in an even worse place than we are now because we won’t be free to deregulate, we won’t be free to go out in the world and make our own deals, we won’t be controlling our own borders and we will still be accepting rules from Brussels.”

2. Boris Johnson

As mayor of London, Boris told voters on 6 March 2016 ahead of the referendum:

Everybody is suddenly wrangling about the terrors of the world outside... Actually, there are plenty of people who now think the cost of getting out would be virtually nil and the cost of staying in would be very high.

Handing ex-chancellor George Osborne The Spectator's Parliamentarian of the Year award on 3 November 2016, a few months after the result, he sloganeered:

Brexit means Brexit and we’re going to make a titanic success of it.

Boris doubled-down on his optimism when he told the Commons on 11 July 2017:

There is no plan for no deal, because we’re going to get a great deal.

Thank goodness no one took him seriously.

3. Michael Gove

Another prominent Leaver, the then-justice secretary finds himself on the wrong side of history for these foolhardy words, uttered during the campaign on 6 April 2016:

The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want.

He followed this on 1 June 2016 with more foresight-free bluster:

We have four years more or less between now and date of next election. We can easily conclude a new settlement with EU in that period.

4. David Davis

The ill-starred former Brexit secretary wrote on Conservative Home on 14 July 2016:

"Be under no doubt: we can do deals with our trading partners, and we can do them quickly. I would expect the new prime minister on 9 September to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals with all our most favoured trade partners. I would expect that the negotiation phase of most of them to be concluded within between 12 and 24 months."

He was equally over-confident when he tweeted on 10 October 2016:

There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside.

And then he lost his job.

5. Liam Fox

The secretary of state for trade appeared on the Today programme on 20 July 2017 and said:

“Well we don’t want to have no deal – it’s much better if a deal than no deal. We can of course survive with no deal and we have to go into a negotiation with those on the other side knowing that’s what we think.

“But of course we want to come to a full and comprehensive deal with the European Union. Why? Because it’s good for the people of Britain and it’s good for our economy and it’s good for the consumers and it’s good for the workers of Europe and their economy. If you think about it, the free trade agreement that we will have to come to with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history.”

“The only reason we wouldn’t come to a free and open agreement is because politics gets in the way of economics.”

6. Jacob Rees-Mogg

Addressing a Conservative Party Conference fringe event in Manchester on 1 October 2017, Rees-Mogg uttered the immortal line:

I’m not in the least bit worried about chlorinated chicken.

Good for him. He'll be eating plenty of it soon.

7. Paul Nuttall

Now for the UKIPpers.

Here's their ex-leader - a man who closely resembles Eddie from Bottom with a beard of scotch egg crumbs - massively under-estimating the task at hand on the Today programme on 17 January 2017:

It will be easy to negotiate a trade deal, and of course, it's in the European Union's interest, just as it is in ours.

8. Gerard Batten

The party's current leader told The Financial Times on 17 February 2017, with blasé self-assurance, that trade relations with the EU could be sorted out "in an afternoon over a cup of coffee". Ha!

9. Douglas Carswell​

And what about the defector, UKIP's only elected MP, who told Mishal Hussein on Today on 8 June 2016:

I think we could very easily get a better trade deal than we have at the moment.

10. Matthew Elliott

Last but not least, how about Vote Leave's chief executive?

On 27 March 2017, the day Article 50 was invoked, Matthew Elliott said he was confident everything could be tied up with a neat little bow within two years:

All the problems that you traditionally have with a trade negotiation aren't there.

This after telling BBC Radio 5 Live in November 2016:

It's actually quite a simple deal... They have a pretty comprehensive plan for what they want to negotiate once they've triggered Article 50. I'm very confident still that by the end of March, Article 50 will be triggered.

I suppose hindsight is a wonderful thing.

More: Brexit: 23 reactions to Theresa May's withdrawal deal being defeated for a third time

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