EXCLUSIVE – “Swastikas, inside No.10, politicians, trade, and Brexit”
A candid conversation with Brexit Party candidate and businessman Lance Forman
Swastika on Forman & Sons' premises / Lance Forman fighting back
On No.10: “They seemed to have ignored everything I said and done the opposite”
When Brexit Party MEP candidate Lance Forman got off a plane from a business trip to the USA last week, he never expected the news he received when he turned on his mobile phone.
A 30-feet (10m) high swastika had been painted on the wall of his factory.
Brexit Facts4EU.Org exclusively presents the transcript of a conversation between Mr Forman and our Editor on Friday. Unusually we are publishing this in full, as we believe it’s a good read.
In the course of the conversation, Mr Forman talks to our Editor about anti-semitism, the political class, the Brexit Party, international trade, the private talks he had about Brexit inside No.10, and how he would re-set the negotiations and leave on WTO terms.
Whilst this is much longer than our usual articles, we think you will find it interesting.
Conversation with leading Brexit Party candidate Lance Forman
Q: Lance, let’s start with the terrible events on Tuesday. Can you take us through this?
A: I had literally touched down on a plane journey back from the USA. I’d been on a business trip selling our smoked salmon, promoting British exports to the US. As I turned on my phone the message came straight through from my office, saying there’s really bad news: there was a 30-foot swastika that had been daubed on our factory building.
This was particularly horrific from my own personal perspective, given that my family came to the UK from Eastern Europe fleeing anti-semitism. My great-granddad who founded this business fled the pogroms of Russia in the late 19th century and my dad himself is a Holocaust survivor who had to flee the Nazis. Many of the family were killed and shot in the town square or taken to the gas chambers, but he was fortunate as a child in being taken prisoner by the Russians to a Siberian prison camp and then coming over to the UK after the war as an orphan.
When you see real Nazism and when your family has suffered at the hands of real Nazism, to get a swastika on your own property - it’s appalling. We don’t know the source of the graffiti, it could be an antisemitic attack or perhaps more likely – giving the timing – is that somebody is attacking me, ironically as being a Nazi or racist because I’m a supporter of the Brexit Party, which I think is completely outrageous.
But actually, that is the way politics seems to be moving nowadays. When you have people like David Lammy coming out attacking supporters of the Brexit Party as being Nazis… How could you compare? When you have people who’ve been killed and gassed purely because of their religion, that’s Nazism.
Just because somebody disagrees with you about the Customs Union or Single Market, that’s not Nazism, that’s just a disagreement. And to start going to the furthest level of attack simply because you have a disagreement, that’s absolutely appalling but that’s where our politics seems to be going. The problem is that if you have politicians that are being so disrespectful, how are the public going to learn? They’re going to follow what their own politicians say and make it worse.
Q: What’s your answer to that Lance? There are a lot of people out there who are concerned about the state of politics and the state of our political class. Do you have any thoughts on that?
A: I think people, politicians particularly, just have to tone down the conversation. I do think there’s a genuine problem with anti-semitism in the Labour Party and that has not been closed down by Jeremy Corbyn and this has allowed things to fester in his own party. If people are not closed down and they’re not told “sorry this is unacceptable” they’ll continue to do it. And I think you’re seeing a lot of that happening, certainly on the anti-semitism front in the Labour Party.
People aren’t even afraid to have their name associated with anti-semitism anymore. Quite recently I was at a Holocaust Memorial event and I was talking to a politician. I was saying that I believed that one of the reasons why people had become so hateful nowadays is because of social media and in particular the anonymity associated with social media. People can just post things with a picture of a cartoon character or a cat or whatever and they can blackmail, they can bully, they can do whatever they want, because nothing can ever come back to them.
And I put that to this particular politician and she responded yes, she thought that way about a year ago, but people now seem to be very happy to put their names thereto, because it’s not being closed off and people feel empowered to just be hateful. It needs to stop.
Q: So your view is that it’s a cultural thing that has gradually have been evolving?
A: Yes, there is a sort of cultural thing. I don’t know whether the two-party system is part of it or if it all comes from social media. But I also think that – moving onto Brexit – where we’re going now is that reasonable people like me, and others like me, are standing up for the Brexit Party.
This is because politicians are not respecting the people. And it’s all part of the same thing. When you don’t have respect, hate starts to fester. And that’s why people like me are getting involved saying, “look, enough is enough”. The Brexit Party is not just about Brexit anymore, it’s about democracy. You have to uphold it. If we live in a democracy and people vote a certain way, you have to uphold what people voted for otherwise it’s no longer a democracy.
Q: A standard question from Remainers is: “We voted nearly three years ago, but everything has changed. We’ve now found out what it’s really all about.” What do you say to that?
A: What I think is that it’s total nonsense. None of us have a crystal ball, the world is always changing, it’s changing every day. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, I don’t know what’s going to happen next week, we have a view about how we think things will happen and the fact of the matter is, in an uncertain world isn’t it better to control your own destiny rather than have somebody else control your destiny? And Brexit gives us that control.
I think Europe is a very dangerous place at the moment and that is my main reason for having supported Brexit. I’ve always believed that economics trumps politics. If you look at the Soviet Union, it didn’t collapse because the communist philosophy was wrong. It collapsed because people were queuing up for bread and they were starving. That’s why it collapsed. Economics always trumps it. And my problem with the EU is the single currency. I think that this dysfunctional currency does not allow economies within Europe to rebalance, as some grow and others shrink.
Q: Why do you think that is, specifically?
A: It’s very simple. Let’s say you had a see-saw and you had two countries on the see-saw, one on one end and one on the other. The only way you can keep the two in balance is either 1) you move the pivot as one gets heavier, ie gets richer, and that’s essentially what you’re doing with an exchange rate. Or 2) you transfer wealth from one to the other.
When you have floating exchange rates between economies as some grow because of their economic cycle and others are shrinking, the floating exchange rate allows everything to remain in balance. Once you fix that pivot, that exchange rate, you don’t have balance any more because everyone has the same currency. The only way to keep economies in balance is by having massive transfers of wealth from rich to poor.
The problem with that is it creates a dependency culture, there’s therefore no incentive for the poorer countries to become more efficient because they’re getting their hand-outs. What then happens is that it builds resentment because the donor country is now thinking: “Well hang on a second. Why are we handing them all this money when these guys are having three siestas and we work 20 hours a day?”
And then they start saying: “If we’re going to start giving you all this money, we’re going to start laying down stricter rules.” This is essentially what happened in Greece and Italy. They start putting in their own Prime Ministers and start laying down very strict rules. And again that continues to build resentment. Resentment leads to extremism and if you look at the EU now, we have more extremism on both the right and the left than at any time since WWII. And I see this as a vicious cycle that we can never get out of once you have a fixed currency. I believe it all stems from the currency.
So for me Brexit was about dismantling this while it’s still peaceful and before the turmoil really erupts because I think it could be very dangerous for Europe as a whole. A friend said to me “Yes, but we are not in the single currency.” I don’t think that matters. The fact of the matter is that this is on our doorstep. When Europe goes pear-shaped we all get dragged in by the gravitational pull of it.
So, what we need to do now is to escape. We need to show other EU countries that actually you don’t need to be in the EU to be successful. You can be an independent, free trading nation and if we do that, and we do it successfully, other EU countries will follow and the EU project – this imperialist project with this dysfunctional currency - will slowly come to an end, in peace. And hopefully we can all be great partners, trading peacefully and successfully with one another and the future of Europe will be great. That’s my view.
Q: Let’s talk about the Brexit Party, which is seeing a massive surge in the polls. I’m sure you saw the Opinium poll this week. Interestingly 75% of people said that staying in the Customs Union was not Brexit.
A: It’s clearly not Brexit, neither being in the Customs Union nor the Single Market. But again, I don’t even think a lot of politicians really understand. I also think a lot of politicians have an inflated view of the significance of trade deals. In all my years I’ve never met a business person - and I certainly haven’t as a business person - ever thought to myself: “Right, where has my country got a trade deal? That’s where I’ll try to find customers.” You don’t do that. You look for customers where you think there’s a market for your product. If your country happens to have a trade deal with that country – brilliant. It comes in handy when you export. But it doesn’t mean that’s where you start.
Lance Forman on an export trip to Chicago a week ago
If you’ve got to fill in an extra form, you’re delighted to do it because you’ve got the business. Who cares about trade deals? The hard work is finding the customer, getting the products right or the service, whatever it is, make sure they pay their bill – these are the tough things in business. Filling in another sheet of paper to go along with the invoice is not the end of the world. These are all great opportunities.
If you look at trade, trade happens because business people and customers want to trade with each other because they have products or services they want to buy from each other. That’s how trade happens. What then happens is that bureaucrats come in and they interfere with that process and they start putting in rules and regulations. That’s the real problem. All a trade deal is doing is basically removing some of those regulations that the bureaucrats put there in the first place and then they think what wonderful people they are for removing these things! It should never have been there in the first place.
Q: You made a decision a few weeks ago that you were going to join the Brexit Party and you were going to stand as an MEP. Let’s take that in two parts. 1) How and when did you make the decision to join the Brexit Party, and 2) what was your thinking about becoming an MEP?
A: I supported the Brexit campaign and just watched over the last few years, with increasing frustration about how the whole thing was being completely mishandled by the Conservative Party. I have had conversations with the special advisors at No.10 Downing Street over the last couple of years when they’ve actually sought my advice or asked what I think they should do and they seemed to have completely ignored everything I said and done the opposite. Which is fair enough; I’m sure they talked to thousands of people. I just think they’ve gone about this completely the wrong way.
Lance Forman at Margaret Thatcher's 80th birthday celebrations
The one thing that really turned my stomach and made me decide to get involved was when Theresa May invited Jeremy Corbyn into No.10 Downing Street. That was a red line for me. First of all, the party themselves had said that this individual is unfit to lead – which I believe he is – but also I do believe that Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite and I believe his party are institutionally anti-semitic at the moment. He led them down that path and he isn’t doing anything to stop it.
To see somebody like that invited into Number 10…? My reaction was that you’re giving this guy credibility by inviting him in there to talk about the future of our country. I just don’t think he should be given any credibility whatsoever. I found the whole thing sickening and I thought I’ve got to step in and do something. So I joined the Brexit Party.
Q: Let’s look at your candidature. You are on the list for the Brexit Party for the London region. In fact you’re number two on the list. The way things are looking at the moment that would pretty much guarantee you a seat in the European Parliament. How does that effect you personally with your business and with your family?
A: Well, thankfully I have a fantastic team in my business. And one of the things a lot of small businesses struggle with is delegation. The owner-manager very typically thinks they can do everything far better than their team can. But I learnt a very, very useful lesson about 10 years ago in delegating because our business had a very different crisis back then. Our premises were compulsorily purchased to make way for the Olympic Stadium.
I spent five years of my life literally battling for the survival of my business. But not only my business - there were 350 businesses that were being forceably evicted by Ken Livingston to make way to the Olympic park, and I became their spokesman. I spent most of my time literally fighting that battle rather than the day-to-day running of my business. I had to hand over that responsibility to my team and they just rose to the challenge and it empowered them and gave them confidence. So now I have a fantastic team.
That’s not to say I’m totally indispensable but most of the time I spend in my business is more sort of PR related and marketing and I can dip in and out as I see fit. So I have the time to get involved in this but I haven’t chosen it because I want to be an MEP spending time in Brussels or Strasbourg, as I don’t think Britain should be there at all. However, given the way the negotiation has gone I think we all feel that we haven’t been able to win this battle quite yet from the outside. Maybe if we’re inside, we can see what we can do to help the battle along.
Q: Okay, let's suppose you’re now Prime Minister.
A: Am I?!
Q: Yes, for the purposes of this question. You know that the negotiations were conducted either with gross incompetence or with deliberate malfeasance or a combination of the two. But we are where we are. If you were going to those negotiations now to reset them – in other words to start again – do you have any thoughts on what you would do to get us out of the EU in a short timescale and how then to progress the relationship with the EU thereafter?
A: Yes. I’ll tell you exactly what I told No.10 two years ago. I was called into a meeting and I explained to them that in any negotiation - and it doesn’t matter if it’s business or political, whatever – in any negotiation nothing happens until the very last moment. And the reason for that is people use every minute they have to push the boundaries to see how far they can go and how far they can push things. So why wait two years?
If we have this two-year window because of Article 50, why wait two years? Why wait until the very end and have two years of uncertainty for our country when it’s all going to be decided in the last week or two anyway?
So I said that what we should do is to tell the EU that we want to bring the deadline forward to three months. We should have said to them that it would be great if we could have a deal with the EU - a mutually beneficial deal – and we’re going to cut the deadline to three months from now. And if we can’t agree anything in three months that’s fine, no problem at all, but we will then use the next year and a half to prepare for no deal which is of course the other option as part of Article 50.
First of all, if you say to the other side that you’re perfectly happy with no deal, we know the EU doesn’t want no deal. That is your best chance actually of securing a deal. They have to believe that you have no concerns about no deal. So that would have been my strategy.
I think we would have stood a much better chance of getting a decent deal but I’m not worried about no deal neither. I think if we leave with no deal, we will be an independent country, able to do trade deals, and I don’t think that the impact on trading is that important anyway. But we will be a free trading nation that would be able to do trade deals with countries around the world. I think it would all happen very quickly and I think once the EU see us doing trade deals with other people they’ll want to do a trade deal with us too because they sell a lot more to us than we sell to them.
Q: But Lance, what would you do now?
A: I think this argument about frictions at borders is again, very misleading. We keep hearing: ‘If we don’t have a deal there will be friction at the border for all these businesses that currently export.”
There are two things I want to say on that. In business if you have a problem you tend to sort it out pretty quickly. You focus on the problem and sort it out quickly because it effects your profit, it effects your bottom line.
If we were no longer in the EU and we were exporting some smoked salmon over to Italy and there was a problem and they said: “Sorry but we have these new forms and you haven’t filled them in correctly,” I guarantee you we would fill them in correctly the next time, a week later. I think those sort of technical issues would be resolved very quickly. But also the main thing about friction at the border - whatever friction there may be - only effects about 5% of our businesses that are actually exporting to the EU.
The real friction of being in the EU is all the regulations and bureaucracy that every single business in the UK faces whether they export to the EU or not. Every single regulation creates frictions for businesses.
We’ve been in business over 100 years. 70 of those years we weren’t even in the EU and in the 45 years we’ve been in it I can’t think of one major benefit that the EU has provided us with. However the frictions and all the petty regulations that have built up over those last 45 years have certainly cost us millions of pounds.
Q: What sort of trade do you do with the EU compared to the rest of the world?
A: We export far, far more to the USA and even to the Far East than we do to the EU. There you go you see. There’s obviously no duty on our smoked salmon exported to the EU yet there is 5% duty on our product to the USA. Despite this we do far more business with the USA because business is not just about the price.
Forman and Sons' salmon on sale in US supermarket two weeks ago
You try selling to France. They’re mostly not interested because they want to buy from a French company.
Forty percent of all British food exports go to Ireland. This means if you divide up the other 60% by 27 countries, it’s about 2 – 3 % each. So they’re not that interested in our food. It’s all going to Ireland, which it would have gone to before the EU anyway and it will carry on after we leave the EU.
Q: Back to the question about you being PM now, and assembling a little team to go and reset things now. What would be your strategy to move to a WTO Brexit and then negotiating after?
A: The first thing I would do as Prime Minister, I would want to implement a low tax, deregulated economy. I would either want to scrap corporation tax totally or certainly reduce it to 10%. And that would remove all the fears that business might have about Brexit.
If we had the lowest corporation tax or zero corporation tax, overseas companies would flock to the UK whether there were tariffs or not. They would flock to the UK because of our tax regime and of course it would help businesses that are already here that have concerns about the EU. Of course every time corporation tax has been reduced we’ve seen tax revenues increase.
Q: Let’s come back to the EU. You’re now facing the EU negotiators - Barnier or Tusk or whoever – what would you be saying as the new Prime Minister to them?
A: I would just be saying to them that we’re going to be leaving. There’s not going to be a deal.
We’ve wasted three years trying to negotiate a deal. We are now leaving the EU with no deal, we just want to get on with our lives. If you want to discuss a free trade deal with us, our door is always open. Knock on our door when you’re ready but for the time being we just want to get on. We’ll be discussing free trade deals with this whole long line of countries that are lining up to do free trade deals with us and wish to. And we’ll add you to the back of the queue when you’re ready.
Q: If I were a Londoner, why should I vote for you as my MEP?
A: I think people should be voting for the Brexit Party anyway, because you’ve got a whole new class of people who are getting involved in politics. The idea behind the candidates that they’ve been pulling together is that they’re looking for people with real experience, not people who have come up through the political ranks. Not lobbyists, or MP candidates in a seat they were never going to win but who eventually just sort of work their way through to becoming an MP.
These are people from business, from academia, people that actually have a much broader experience, who are fed up with the way politicians have handled or should we say mishandled things. They believe that with their real experience they can actually make the changes that real people want to see.
Q: Okay but why should people want to vote for you, Lance?
A: I’m one of these people who has this experience and a belief in Brexit. And I think you have to believe in Brexit. You have to have a positive vision otherwise you can never deliver it. If not, you’re always trying to do what Theresa May is doing - and many of her cabinet. They see this as a damage limitation exercise rather than as a great positive opportunity for Britain.
People like me believe this is as one of the greatest opportunities our country has had in the last 45 years to really re-invent itself and we are in a very fast-paced moving world now. I believe - and people like me believe - that being part of this large bureaucratic bloc that takes years to make decisions is not the way forward.
You need to be nimble and flexible because things move so fast particularly with technology. And being independent and nimble is going to be far more beneficial for our country going forward.
I really hope we can make a start, on 23 May.
After the events of last week we felt it important to give Mr Forman a voice.
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[ Source : Taped conversation with Lance Forman, Brexit Party candidate and CEO of Forman & Sons]
Brexit Facts4EU.Org, Sunday 12 May 2019
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