For some time now, JD Wetherspoons has been serving up its cut price drinks right alongside the cut price opinions of its lager magnate turned TV camera magnet boss Tim Martin. But, here at The Velvet Coaster, right on Blackpool promenade, it is coming as something of a shock to see the former going down rather more easily than the latter.
It is, roughly, pub number 98 on Martin’s roughly 100 stop, “Free Trade” Tour, a kind of 19th-century Liberal tribute act with added Bud Light. As though the pro-Brexit leaflets, newsletters and beer mats that have been distributed with uncharacteristic generosity throughout his 900 boozers over the past three years were not enough, now Martin himself is coming to tell them all in person. And he’s coming, specifically, to tell them no-deal Brexit is the best Brexit there is, and how this particular version of Brexit – which is more commonly described as either “catastrophic” or “national suicide” – is in fact the land of milk and honey, and absolutely, definitely, nothing for the kind of person who likes their drinks poured from behind the nation’s ruthlessly cheapest bars to worry about.
Microphone in hand, gilet over shoulders, and standing, as ever, beneath that cloud of electrified hair that would look more at home on the undercarriage of Matilda from Robot Wars, Martin is talking about his “history lessons at school, when I was 15 years old”. But it quickly becomes apparent that whoever marked his homework back then had a rather more permissive attitude towards reality than the Velvet Coaster’s gathered masses.
“If you want to survive, you need democracy,” he explains. “Canada isn’t under threat from the USA, because the USA is a democracy. New Zealand isn’t under threat from Australia because Australia is a democracy.
“But the European Union isn’t a democracy. It is going backwards when the rest of the world is going forwards. And when there’s less democracy, like in China, Russia, or North Korea, when there is less democracy, that is when wars start.”
But a mouth at the back quickly disassociates itself from its pint glass in disgust. “You talk about dictatorships? Russia? China? And you talk about the EU in the same breath? That is ridiculous. Ridiculous. The idea that Jean-Claude Juncker, or the EU, are going to start a war, is ridiculous,” says a young man by the name of Christian Steele, a local taxi driver who, it turns out, is not here to drink unquestioningly from the font of knowledge that is pouring forth before him. And he’s anything but alone.
Next Martin is on to how “The FT, the Treasury” and so on are always wrong about everything, that there’s been “no recession, no punishment budget” as they all predicted. But within minutes, a local doctor called Rob Wheatley is telling him, ”There’s only one economist who agrees with you [about No Deal], and that’s Patrick Minford from the Economists for Free Trade. And even he acknowledges that No Deal will have to involve reducing agriculture and manufacturing down to zero.”
This, it turns out, is Wheatley’s third bite at the cherry, having first turned up at the “Free Trade Tour” in a Wetherspoons somewhere in Manchester three weeks ago, and this afternoon he’s followed Martin to Blackpool from his earlier stop in Preston.
Another man is shouting at Martin to: “Watch what happens to the pound, on March 29th, watch what happens, if we leave without a deal.”
But the plummeting pound is not a problem either. “It’s good for exports,” we learn from Martin, “and it’s good for inward tourism. People taking their holiday in Cornwall, or right here in Blackpool.”
This goes down well, not least with a couple who run a B&B down the road. But this’s is a somewhat niche altar on which the nation is choosing to lay its wider economic wellbeing.
Then there’s the stuff about “cheaper car parts, from Japan, that we can import once we’ve left", Martin being only too glad to join the ever-lengthening queue of politicians and pro-Brexit voices only too happy to tell various multinational car manufacturers that they don’t know the first thing about how to manufacture a car.
Naturally, there’s plenty of cheers too. And it can’t be ignored that his critics might be the most vocal but they’re not the most numerous. And, yes, it’s a Thursday afternoon in the middle of a cold, working January week, but it nevertheless also can’t be ignored that the average age of the crowd would be a warm day in Farenheit, but certainly not in Celsius.
In any case, at some point, in the near future, theoretically, this country is going to have to start not hating one another. And if you can’t stop a pro-Brexit rally in a Wetherspoons pub from a high speed Big Dipper style descent to internecine strife, then there’s certainly a long, long, long way to go yet.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies