Lance Forman is only hoping to be in his new career until the end of October, but if there’s another extension to the Brexit process, he could be there for much longer.
When Mr Forman was elected MEP for London in May it didn’t come as much of a surprise. The Brexit Party were riding high in the polls, and many saw the vote as another re-run of Britain’s 2016 EU referendum where the options were if you voted Leave, you would back the Brexit Party, and if you voted Remain, you would back the Liberal Democrats.
The 56-year-old, who also owns one of East London’s last remaining original salmon smokehouses, didn’t take office immediately. He only started in his new role on 2 July. So what’s he been up to since?
“I’ve been making people aware of how wasteful and undemocratic the EU is,” he told Salmon Business.
“And reinforcing why people were right to vote to leave the EU, and those who didn’t, making them aware of why we should.”
And he says he’s “absolutely loving it”. “It’s absolutely fabulous,” he said. “It’s my lifetime ambition fulfilled.” Is it affecting his business? “No,” he replies. He says he’s got a great group of staff who are keeping everything going.
But each day the UK remains in the EU is another day Mr Forman has to balance his ownership of H Forman and Son with his MEP job. It’s now been so long since the UK voted to leave the EU that the country has already had to request several extensions because Parliament is unable to make up its mind over what to do next.
These European elections that Mr Forman was elected in were never expected to take place in the country. Indeed, the Article 50 process – the mechanism by which Britain extricates itself from the EU – was triggered in March 2017. The process is meant to go on for just two years, so we should have left at the end of March 2019.
“I remember after the referendum quite a lot of my friends – probably 70 or 75 per cent of my friends – were on the Remain side of the argument and they all pointed the finger at me saying ‘ah this is all your fault’, you’ve made this terrible thing happen,” he told Salmon Business. “And I said ‘look, I was passionate about leaving, you’re passionate about staying, but I got off my backside and did something about it.’”
Since the vote, the UK has had three prime ministers. David Cameron, who said he wasn’t the man to ‘steady the ship’ as the UK leaves; Theresa May, who voted Remain and managed to negotiate a Withdrawal Agreement with a backstop that some her own MPs rejected; and Boris Johnson, who was Mayor of London and backed Leave in the referendum. It appears the process is becoming very challenging. So how does Mr Forman think the latest Prime Minister is handling things?
“I think Boris is playing a very good game at the moment actually,” he told Salmon Business.
“In a game of Poker, you don’t want people to know what your cards are, and you’ve got keep them close to your chest, and he is playing them close to his chest. Even we in the Brexit Party, who want Brexit, have got no idea which way Boris is going with this. Remainers don’t, the Conservative party don’t. He’s keeping everyone wondering. And he has to do that because he can’t let the EU know what his strategy is and what he’s thinking otherwise he’s not going to have a successful negotiation.”
The Brexit Party would go for a ‘clean break Brexit’, as it calls it. That means severing ties with the EU and trading on what’s known as World Trade Organisation rules.
“What we hope is he either leaves with no-deal or an acceptable deal,” he told Salmon Business.
If we leave with no-deal, we effectively will end up trading on World Trade Organisation rules. But, if Boris manages to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement that his predecessor left him, this could be avoided.
The Brexit Party say an ‘acceptable deal’ would be one where the UK is not tied politically, legally, socially or financially to the EU. In other words, we would leave, and our membership would be replaced with a free trade agreement.
Mr Forman said: “We, in the Brexit Party, are concerned he comes back with Theresa May’s deal minus the backstop and says that’s ‘good enough’. But that isn’t good enough.”
“I think his negotiating strategy is good, not necessarily what he’s negotiating, but the method of negotiation is good. But we have serious concerns over what it is he brings back.”
Tensions are rising in the British Parliament as the deadline to Brexit edges closer. On current terms, the UK is due to leave on 31 October, with or without a deal. But a bill presented to Parliament this week may make it that Mr Johnson is forced to request a further extension to Brexit, continuing the process even more.
If it’s the case that we do leave on 31 October and we have a general election, will Mr Forman run? “No,” is his response. But he has previously mulled standing in Jeremy Corbyn’s seat, who is the UK’s leader of the opposition and leader of the Labour Party. Now that would have been an interesting contest.