The former leader of the moderately successful United Kingdom Independence Party and champion of Brexit, Nigel Farage, has admitted that Britain’s departure from the European Union has ‘failed.’
Appearing on the BBC’s political programme Newsnight, the controversial yet once relatively popular figure with a sizeable section of the British electorate told Victoria Derbyshire that the Conservative government had ‘mismanaged this totally,’ adding that ‘we haven’t actually benefitted from Brexit economically when we could have done.’
Some Remain-leaning politicians have picked up on this admission and have taken glee at witnessing the man that played such a pivotal role in encouraging the then UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, to call for a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union in 2016, finally comprehending that his projections of a better Britain post-Brexit were in error. The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman, Layla Moran, stated that ‘Farage’s hypocrisy is astounding. The number one cheerleader for wrecking our relationship with Europe now seems to have finally realised the disastrous impact it’s had on our economy and on families up and down the country.’
This is, however, a misreading of Farage’s critique. The Newsnight interview revealed that his issue is not with Brexit as a principle but that, in his view, the process of departure has meant that contemporary post-Brexit Britain has failed to reach its full potential. In his final statement, he declared that ‘frankly, we’ve not delivered on borders, we’ve not delivered on Brexit. The Tories have let us down very, very badly.’
Blaming the Conservative government for this supposed betrayal allows Nigel Farage to continue to be relevant within British politics, as well as upholding his reputation. By pointing to a cohort of politicians and ministers that ‘are about as useless as the commissioners in Brussels were,’ the ex-UKIP leader can adopt similar national populist policies and political communication that proved to be so successful for him leading up to the referendum vote in 2016. By suggesting Britons have been betrayed by Conservative ministers, his anti-establishment, pro-Brexit stance can continue, especially as his ability to critique European politicians is irrelevant now that Britain has formally left the EU. When pointed towards recent polling that illustrated increasing numbers of Brexit voters now regret the decision they made back in 2016, Farage implicitly places himself as spokesman for those that feel ‘the disappointment … in what the Conservatives have failed to deliver’ regarding Brexit.
Well known for his political outbursts and critique of rising immigration numbers, Farage took the opportunity to admonish the government’s handling of the post-Brexit immigration system, as reports suggest net migration could hit one million. He stated that ‘we’ve been blindsided, I think, by what’s happened with legal migration.’
‘Be in no doubt,’ he added. ‘The only reason we won the referendum for the Leave side was because people believed getting control of our borders would mean the numbers would be lower. This was implicit in what Boris Johnson went to the country with in 2019.’ This may explain why Farage’s Brexit Party stood aside to allow Boris Johnson’s Conservatives to succeed in gaining a landslide 80-seat majority in the 2019 General Election, assisted by the now infamous slogan ‘Get Brexit Done.’ Farage believed that the Conservatives' handling of this post-Brexit immigration system was ‘a breach of trust.’
The populist, anti-immigration fearmongering was dusted down and repackaged for a post-Brexit environment in this interview. Perhaps this was most clearly evinced by Farage’s statement that ‘we now have an open door to everybody’ and that the system was ‘totally out of control.’ Yet if the Office for National Statistics report does confirm net migration figures have hit a new peak, many of those Brexit voters that believed numbers entering the British Isles would fall will be left wondering what exactly it was they voted for. Farage’s conclusion of a mismanaged Brexit may gain traction.
The argument that the Conservative government had mismanaged the economic terrain of the post-Brexit environment was also deployed by Farage, criticising the move to increase corporation tax from nineteen to twenty-five percent that was ‘driving business away from our country.’ Many Brexiteers argued less financial regulation outside of the bloc would attract additional investment from companies.
A spokesman for Number Ten has rejected Farage’s argument that the cause has been a missed opportunity, pointing to new freedoms now enjoyed by the British farming sector. This includes the ending of a ‘skewed’ system that benefitted the ‘largest landowners,’ with ‘a fairer system tailored to British farmers post-Brexit.’
A more favourable deal for British farmers was not the widespread vote winner that led to the result in 2016. Yet even the National Farmers’ Union stated that ‘volatility, uncertainty and instability’ is currently characterising the British farming industry, as the Guardian reported that the nation’s agricultural sector is being ‘battered by Brexit fallout and rising costs.’
As the difficulties linked to Brexit become clearer, Nigel Farage has chosen to deploy the political technique that has previously served him well. It is well-timed, as net migration figures are to be published imminently, and a general election is looming. Indeed, the ‘architect of Britain quitting the EU’ was reported months ago to still be ‘publicity-hungry,’ with the ‘showman’ ‘tempted to throw his hat into the ring’ if it meant returning to frontline politics.
The Newsnight appearance may have been Nigel Farage’s first attempt to cultivate a wider audience around the notion that Conservative ministers have betrayed the true nature of the Brexit cause leading up to the 2024 General Election. The notion was that if the right people oversaw the process of departure, all the proposed benefits that were listed as part of the Vote Leave campaign would have come to fruition. As honorary president of Reform UK – the rebranded Brexit Party – Farage could still have a role to play in British politics. At the interview’s conclusion, Victoria Derbyshire queried the possibility of a ‘political comeback for you then?’ Farage replied, ‘Well, I wouldn’t rule it out.’
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