Friday 19 January 2018

Farage: EU is 'dead, it's a goner and that's good'

The Ukip leader says Britain is now 'a global, outward-looking country, not a little European one', writes Tim Ross

To the victor, the spoils: Nigel Farage has seen a 25-year campaign for Britain to leave the EU finally triumph at the polls. Photo: Reuters
To the victor, the spoils: Nigel Farage has seen a 25-year campaign for Britain to leave the EU finally triumph at the polls. Photo: Reuters

Tim Ross

On Wednesday night, torrential thunderstorms hit London and the southeast of England. Huge quantities of rain fell in the early hours, flooding railway stations and closing roads before the polls opened on Thursday morning for Britain's referendum on its EU membership.

The downpour woke Nigel Farage at 2am and he could not get back to sleep. His mind raced with thoughts of the referendum, a vote that marked the culmination of his 25-year crusade.

"I could not get to sleep to save my life," he says. "I just lay there for three or four hours, going back through it all and thinking about when I first stood for Ukip."

In the Eastleigh by-election in 1994, Mr Farage "just crept past Lord Sutch" of the Monster Raving Loony Party by 164 votes, he recalls.

Now, after being derided as a loony and a racist (by David Cameron, among others), Mr Farage and his party have triumphed. His war with the political establishment has delivered an era-defining result that will see the UK pull out of the European Union.

In 1994, his manifesto to withdraw from Europe attracted 952 votes in the Hampshire constituency. On Thursday, more than 17 million people voted for Brexit.

After a night like that, what does Mr Farage feel?

"Relief", he says. "What an amazing day. After a quarter of a century, we've actually bloomin' done it.

"I don't quote my children normally but one of them said to me, 'Well, Daddy, at least 25 years of your life haven't gone down the drain.'"

We meet in the shadow of Westminster Abbey, in the makeshift offices that the Ukip leader used as a campaign base in London.

Mr Farage, cigarette in hand, is contemplating the journey that has now delivered the dream of freedom from Brussels that is his if it is anyone's.

"I can barely take it in really. I know it's happened. But as I watched it (the count) and started to realise it was actually going to happen, I just couldn't believe it.

"To beat the entire Establishment and it was the entire Establishment - Bank of England, the Treasury, and it was global too, Obama - and the threats, it shows you that the disconnect between (London) SW1 and the rest of the country is just enormous."

Yet in the hours immediately following the result, the pound slumped to its lowest level for more than 30 years and hundreds of billions were wiped from markets around the world.

Does this not give Mr Farage cause to worry that some of those warnings about economic disaster might just have been right?

"There's nothing new here," he says. "I think we are going into a mild recession anyway, regardless of Brexit. Our growth forecasts are down. Our public sector borrowing is still not under control at all and everyone forgets that sterling is in a bear market, declining since July 2014."

If the UK government does its job of managing the economy "there is no reason why we couldn't be benefiting two years from now" from the "increased global opportunities" that Brexit will bring, he says.

Mr Farage has a strong claim to be the most influential figure in British politics since Margaret Thatcher. Without his often lonely campaign, which saw him elected Ukip leader in 2006, transforming the party into a popular force, there would never have been a referendum.

The threat from Ukip, which attracted disaffected Tory voters, prompted Conservative MPs to launch repeated rebellions against David Cameron over the question of whether to hold a vote.

After ruling out a referendum, Mr Cameron eventually relented and his promise of an 'in/out' poll kept the rebels quiet for a time.

Mr Farage says his long campaign would have been fruitless without the "vital" decision from Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to back Brexit and convert more Tories to the cause.

The Ukip leader called the British prime minister "Dodgy Dave" during the referendum campaign but, in victory, refines his opinion. "He's not a bad man, he just found himself at the wrong end of the argument, at the wrong point in history," Mr Farage says. "I have, on a personal level, some sympathy for him."

However, he says: "The wishes of the people now have to be carried out. It has got to be a Brexit prime minister. This now has to be a Brexit government. The government has to get this job done before the next general election."

Mr Farage clearly senses a grave danger in delay.

"Look at the history. Only Greenland so far has managed to slip free - that was a long, long time ago," he says.

In 2001, Irish voters rejected the EU's Nice Treaty but were persuaded to accept it at a later referendum. Seven years later, Ireland again held a referendum - this time on the Lisbon Treaty - and again rejected it, only for it to be approved unchanged when a second vote was called.

Mr Farage makes the point that the French and Dutch rejected the EU constitution only to get the Lisbon Treaty by the back door. "The history is not very good."

Does Mr Farage have a preference among the many likely runners and riders to succeed Mr Cameron and negotiate Britain's departure from Europe?

"I am happy if it's Boris, I'm happy if it's Michael Gove, I'm happy if it's Liam Fox. A Brexit prime minister, that's what I want."

In addition to the negotiators sent to Brussels, others must begin building trade relationships with the rest of the world, "explaining to people that we are now a global, outward-looking country, not a little European one".

Of his own political future, he says: "I'm only 52. My future is uncertain as far as politics is concerned. But I want to see this process out. I want to see the try converted."

And what of his arch foe, the EU itself?

"It's dead," he says. "A goner. And good."

Sunday Independent

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