Ladies & Gentlemen, Colleagues,
This is shaping up to be a great Party Conference. It is our first Conference since our great victory in the Brexit Referendum. It is the Conference where we say farewell to Party Leader Nigel Farage, and greet new Party Leader Diane James.
Let me first of all add my voice to all the tributes which have already been paid to Nigel. Every one of us in this hall played a part in the Brexit Campaign, but I very much doubt that we should have won it without Nigel’s tireless efforts, both during the campaign, and during the two decades when he led and inspired and nurtured the Party.
Nigel will be an incredibly tough act to follow, but we wish Diane James every success as the new Party Leader. She has a tough job to do, but she has the skills, the character, the determination and the media savvy to succeed, and I am sure that Diane can count on the support of all of us in this Hall, and throughout the Party, in the task she has undertaken.
Diane will be making her own decisions and her own appointments for policy spokesmen for the Party, and I shall be happy to pass on my responsibility for industry and energy to whomever she chooses to appoint. But I have had the privilege of speaking for the Party on these issues for the past four and a half years, so perhaps I may take ninety seconds of your time to outline a few key thoughts for future energy policy.
First nuclear. I have always been convinced that nuclear energy must be a key element in a rational British energy policy, and initially I welcomed the decision to proceed with Hinkley C. But I have become increasingly concerned about the costs. Nuclear power is potentially cheap over the lifetime of a reactor. Yet we have struck a deal which makes nuclear energy as expensive as off-shore wind – and that at a time when fossil fuel prices are trending downwards. Add to that the increasing security concerns about the Chinese involvement, and I’m afraid we have to say that Hinkley C is a bad deal for Britain. My strong advice to my successor would be “Nuclear Yes: Hinkley No”.
Then renewables. I and the Party have been resolutely opposed to wind and solar, for a whole range of reasons, but mostly because they represent a threat both to affordability, and to security of supply. That is still true today, but we need to watch developments closely. The costs of both solar and wind are reducing. The industry is claiming “grid parity” for renewables. They are wrong to do so, because intermittency imposes additional costs which they mostly choose to ignore. But equally there are rapid developments in large-scale energy storage. Today, we do not yet have the massive storage capacity which would overcome the intermittency problem – but in ten years’ time, we may well have it.
This does not mean that we are wrong to resist renewables today. If I’m right that renewables will become economically viable, with reduced costs and massive storage capacity, say by 2025, we shall still look back and ask why we squandered huge resources covering the country with equipment which, from that future vantage point, will look hopelessly clunky, old-fashioned and inefficient.
Then gas. It was Labour Statesman Aneurin Bevan (those were the days when the Labour Party actually had statesmen) who said “Britain is an island made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish” – and Conference, we expect to get those fish back following Brexit! But if he were here today, Bevan might well say “An island built on gas and surrounded by fish”.
I know that there are real concerns about shale gas amongst the public – and perhaps in our Party – and that is not surprising given the torrent of negative propaganda surrounding the technology. But an independent Britain needs independent energy, and we cannot ignore the potential under our feet. If the shale gas reserves are anywhere near some of the estimates, then the impact on the economy, on prosperity, on jobs, on our energy security, our balance of payments and our tax revenues will be dramatic. It would be irresponsible to ignore so big an opportunity.
But let’s return to the main theme of our conference today. Brexit, and our amazing victory.
During the referendum campaign I was always careful to warn of possible economic volatility around the Brexit vote, and Conference, I’ll be honest. I anticipated that if we won, there would be months, perhaps years, of bad headlines. I thought that perhaps our main task after the vote would be to keep reassuring people that the benefits of Brexit would come through eventually, and that we had to grit our teeth during the economic upheaval of disengagement. And let’s be clear – there will be bad news as well as good as we move forward to liberation from Brussels.
But the news so far is better than my wildest dreams. There’s been no emergency Budget. Mortgage rates have not rocketed. House prices have not slumped. The Footsie is ahead of its pre-Brexit level. High-street spending is up. Confidence has recovered in services and manufacturing. Cars are selling. There is a tourist boom in London and across the country. Hotels, bars and restaurants are full (and that’s not just Kippers celebrating).
Countries around the world, frustrated in their efforts to negotiate with the EU, are queuing up to talk trade deals with a newly independent UK. Yes, the Pound is down – but that has proved a tonic for exports, with our balance of payments deficit down. And most economists believed that the Pound was over-valued and needed an adjustment.
So what has suffered from Brexit? I’ll tell you. The reputation of George Osborne. And the Treasury. And Mark Carney at the Bank of England. And the IMF. And President Obama. And assorted banks, consultants, accounting firms and rating agencies. They all got it wrong.
Some of the whining Remainians are calling for a Second Referendum. But what could they say? Their whole case was based on Project Fear. The sky would fall if we voted to leave. But the sky didn’t fall. Project Fear has imploded. It has vanished in a puff of smoke. They have no case to argue.
On social media, some voices are saying that now we’ve won, UKIP can pack up and go home. Mission accomplished. No more to be done. Some suggest that UKIP MEPs should resign in a body, in a great gesture of triumphant hubris.
But colleagues remember that we may have voted for Brexit. But today as we speak, the UK is still a fully paid-up member of the EU. Still subject to EU law. Still paying billions for the privilege of membership. And with a Prime Minister who insists that Brexit means Brexit – but seems uncertain what Brexit means. So let’s tell her.
Brexit means independence. It means we will no longer be subject to EU laws and policies. We will pay nothing to the EU budget. We will control our own borders and our own immigration. And our own fisheries. And as a strong and independent nation, we will negotiate trade terms on a similar basis with the EU as we will with America, and China, and any other country. We will not accept the Swiss or the Norwegian models, and their dodgy compromises with Brussels.
So our job is not finished. We have to hold Theresa May’s kitten-heels to the fire, and make sure there is no backsliding.
I occasionally read a little poetry or history, and though I’m not a religious man, I recently found a prayer of Sir Francis Drake which fits the bill today. He faced the Spanish Armada – possibly the greatest military machine the world had yet seen — but they say he insisted on finishing his game of bowls on Plymouth Ho before going down to blow the European fleet out of the water. Sir Francis prayed:
“Oh Lord God, When though givest it to thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same unto the end, until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory”. Colleagues, we have won a great battle, but the war won’t be won until Britain is independent again.
I said to begin with that we owe a great debt of gratitude to Nigel Farage. Not just we in this hall today, but the whole party, and indeed the whole country. But perhaps, just perhaps, the whole of Europe will also be in his debt. Be in no doubt, colleagues, that our Brexit victory has inspired other movements across Europe. The Swedish Democrats — we have Peter Lundgren at our Conference today. The German AfD. In Italy, the Five Star Movement. The Freedom Party in Austria. The Visegrad Group in Eastern Europe, which is in revolt against the EU’s migrant plans.
Let me close with one last quotation, this time from William Pitt the Younger in his last public speech in the City of London in 1805, just after the victory in the Battle of Trafalgar. He said “England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example”.
Colleagues, like Martin Luther King, I too have a dream. A dream of a free and prosperous Europe of democratic sovereign states linked solely by free trade and voluntary intergovernmental cooperation. I believe that that dream is closer to achievement now than ever in my lifetime.
And if it comes about, much of the credit will be due to this Party. To UKIP. We did it. Well done, colleagues, well done.