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(Illustration by Michael Daley)


Nigel Farage must be Britain’s best- known seven-times-failed Westminster parliamentary candidate. In the United States he presents himself as Mr Brexit; in the UK he is portrayed as the one British politician who championed Trump before his victory. Neither claim is in fact true. Farage was not a public face of the officially-designated Vote Leave campaign and they did their very best to keep him off the airwaves as much as they could during the campaign. In the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election Farage explicitly did not endorse Trump — he would only go so far as to say that he would certainly not vote for Hillary Clinton. Farage’s endorsement came after Trump’s victory.

By the time the UK leaves the EU next year Farage will, thanks only to proportional representation, have been a Member of the European Parliament for 20 years. UKIP’s later rise was predicated upon the platform and indeed money the European Parliament provided. This was the essential launchpad for the party’s later takeoff. 

What has Farage achieved from his European platform? He has made pugnacious speeches which have had millions of views on YouTube. By the standards of today’s politicians he is a great communicator — outclassed on the Right perhaps only by Boris Johnson and in his own idiosyncratic way Jacob Rees-Mogg — but Farage’s appeal is limited to certain sections of the electorate, as his failure to win a first-past-the-post election demonstrates.

Fear of Farage and the rise of UKIP undoubtedly contributed to David Cameron’s decision to switch to supporting an In/Out EU membership referendum in his Bloom-berg speech in January 2013. But the then Prime Minister was also responding to rising Tory Euroscepticism and the biggest rebellion over Europe any Conservative leader had ever faced, when in October 2011 81 MPs voted in defiance of the whip in support of an In/Out referendum. Cameron had spectacularly miscalculated. In Farage’s words, “The irony was that far from shoot the UKIP fox, all the Bloomberg speech did was feed it.”

Farage also has another achievement to his name, such as it is. As he said in 2016, “I’ve spent ten years trying to make immigration and EU membership synonymous.” When Farage was first elected in 1999 there had been no mention of immigration in UKIP’s election literature. By the 2014 European elections, in which UKIP got the largest share of the vote, immigration was the party’s defining issue. What had changed was the Blair government’s decision in 2004 not to impose any work restrictions on citizens from the Central and Eastern European countries joining the EU that year. This led to an unprecedented level of migration to the UK and moved an issue which had been only raised by a fringe to an everyday concern of millions. Farage knew how to capitalise upon it and this helped to make a Leave vote possible.
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