LONDON—If there’s one man who should understand the reality of Britain’s impending Brexit, it’s James Chapman.
The former political editor of the Daily Mail, a forthright anti-European newspaper, was appointed chief of staff to Britain’s Brexit secretary, making him one of the most senior members of the team who would deliver the country’s exit from the European Union.
Chapman found himself at the very heart of London’s gargantuan and complex task of extricating itself from the political, diplomatic, and economic ties that have bound the city to the European mainland for half a century. He was sworn to secrecy as his boss David Davis and Prime Minister Theresa May insisted that Britain’s negotiating strategy must be closely guarded.
Now he is blowing the whistle.
Chapman quit the Department for Exiting the European Union in June and in recent weeks he began to share some of his concerns about the lack of planning by British officials and the apparent unwillingness to publicly address the scale of the obstacles.
On Tuesday, he let rip.
In an online tirade, he accused his former boss and Brexit minister, Davis, of being a lazy, incompetent, bullying, liar who was unfit for the job. He questioned the intellect of the prime minister and claimed that neither of them had any idea what they were doing over Brexit.
He also called on his former Brexit colleagues to resign from the department as they were being asked “to facilitate misconduct in public office.”
“This is far, far beyond a joke. It is a national emergency,” he wrote on Twitter, where he was fast becoming a social media star.
Chapman’s exasperation with the Conservative government’s position is such that he claims the only way for Britain to escape this mess is the creation of a new party called the Democrats. He is planning to launch the new centrist movement at a rally outside parliament on Sept. 9.
The new party would seek to overturn Brexit and then ban all future referenda. In the days since he first proposed the idea, Chapman, who has one of the best contacts books in Westminster, says he has been approached by two current Conservative members of the Cabinet and several former Cabinet ministers asking about the new party.
Britain’s three big political parties have been around for more than a century, and the country’s voting system makes it almost impossible for newcomers to break into Parliament. Even Nigel Farage’s U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), which rose as high as 25 percent in the opinion polls could only ever secure seats in parliament when Conservatives defected to join the party. Farage himself ran for parliament seven times without success.
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That is not to say that Farage and his anti-European extremists did not fundamentally change British politics. Former Prime Minister David Cameron only agreed to hold the Brexit referendum when UKIP’s support in the opinion polls threatened to keep the Conservatives out of power.
One of Chapman’s criticisms of Davis is that he has Farage “on speed dial” and asked his “appalled” civil servants to program the former UKIP boss’ number into his departmental cellphone.
Chapman must hope that his Democrats can help exert a similar kind of pressure on mainstream politicians—albeit from a very different place on the political spectrum—as outright electoral success looks to be a long-shot.
Anna Soubry, a former Conservative minister, became the first Member of Parliament to publicly admit that she was considering leaving her party over Brexit in the wake of Chapman’s proposals. “I would be betraying my principles if I did not make it clear that country must always come before party,” she said.
It remains unlikely that a swathe of MPs will rush to join a new anti-Brexit party but one thing is for certain: Chapman knows what it’s really like inside Britain’s top Brexit negotiating team.
Some of the meetings he has decribed between senior British officials and their European counterparts sound excruciating. “Someone should ask DD about time he told horrified Slovakian PM ‘if you think we are going to pay so you can sell us your cars, forget it,’” Chapman wrote on Twitter. “I would like to apologise to Slovakian PM for this and fact we only stayed an hour as DD wanted to go home.”
The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has also felt the lash of Chapman’s tongue. “I sat in meetings with EU ministers politely appalled by buffoon @BorisJohnson’s insistence UK would ‘have cake and eat it,’” he wrote.
Before joining Davis’ office, Chapman was a special adviser to Cameron’s right-hand man George Osborne at the Treasury, making him a senior figure in the previous Conservative administration.
He is deeply unimpressed with the new prime minister.
“Let’s make @theresa_may the last ever @conservatives PM – she’s already the worst,” he wrote. “Not much going on upstairs with latter day Elizabeth I, I’m sad to report.”
If the Brexit referendum had turned out differently, Chapman could have been working in No. 10 with Osborne, which some have cited as an explanation for his bitterness toward May.
He had been careful to avoid any personal criticism of his boss, however, until Tuesday when that ended in dramatic fashion. He said Davis had been working a “3 day week since day one” and that he demanded six sugars be stirred into his tea for him in between plain ham sandwiches which he could not make himself. During a confrontation with Labour shadow minister Diane Abbott, he said Davis had been “drunk, bullying and inappropriate.”
He also claimed that Davis had been lying about his negotiations and claimed that the minister did not bother to read his briefing notes.
As this torrent of insider claims spewed out onto the internet, some pro-Brexit figures began to question why he had turned against them so ferociously.
“Brexiteers asking if I have ‘gone mad’. Well, I am incandescent at what they’ve done to my children’s country,” he wrote.
Chapman hopes that during his Sept. 9 rally, there will be thousands of other people who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.