Nigel Farage’s politics began at school. Heavily influenced by eurosceptic and anti-immigrant MP Enoch Powell, he was described as racist and his role as a Prefect was criticised. After working in the city, Farage returned to politics and founded the UK Independence Party (UKIP). In 2016, he successfully orchestrated Britain’s decision to leave the EU and now, three years on, Farage is once again centre stage.
Over the weekend, his new Brexit Party reached 85,000 members, equal to two-thirds of the Conservative membership. Farage has since ceremoniously claimed leadership of ‘the fastest growing political force in the land’, which is sure to send a chill through Westminster.
The Brexit Party did not stand in last week’s elections, however, they will contest the European elections at the end of May. Current polls predict that they will hold 28 per cent of the popular vote, placing them ahead of any other party and handing them even more influence in the Brexit debate.
This is a situation both parties must avoid. Electoral success for Farage will hand the momentum towards a hard Brexit, reintroduce a dangerous narrative to the debate and potentially see the end to a managed Brexit deal. Now is the final chance for the two main parties to agree on a managed exit from the EU. If not, then Brexit will be wrestled away from the middle ground and Nigel Farage’s takeover of the British political playground will be complete.
At a recent Brexit Party rally it became clear what sort of country Britain may become if the Brexit Party succeeds electorally. Asking the crowd why they are here, Sky News journalist, Lewis Goodall gets the response: ‘Because we’re patriots’. ‘Are members of other parties not patriots?’ replies Goodall. ‘No, they’re not‘, shouts the crowd. When asking two audience members what would happen if May and Corbyn agreed on a deal, they respond: ‘You’ve got to be joking. It’ll only be the start’. One man goes further, ‘both of them should be prosecuted, especially May’. ‘Shoot them!’ another man says.
Over the weekend Farage echoed his supporters claiming a Brexit deal to be a ‘coalition of politicians against the people’. Such thinking has framed Farage’s politics for over 20 years, however, Goodall believes the atmosphere amongst his supporters may have changed, arguing: ‘You really get the feeling that even if a deal is passed, this is the beginning of something, not the end’. If this is the case, this is certainly not the time to let the Brexit Party gain the upper hand; the consequences of their success may be too grave.
Politics can be about moments, and difficult decisions are made to change the course of the future, and this may be that time. The point is that May and Corbyn, both deeply unsatisfied, will now be aiming to push a negotiated deal through in the hope that it stems the tide away from a Farage-based Brexit deal.
If the EU elections provide the platform for a strong Brexit Party, Britain will have to manage a scenario where a majority of anti-EU MEPs sit in Brussels whilst their fellow politicians in Westminster continue to fight for a deal that can be agreed upon.
The fear for the British people is that if this is the case, the situation may no longer be in the hands of May or Corbyn, but instead, it will be under the control of Nigel Farage and other hard Brexiteer MPs. This is a scenario that no true believer in compassion, understanding and shared prosperity can allow and is the reason why progress on a Brexit deal is imperative if Britain does not want to finally fall into the hands of Nigel Farage.