When the 751 Members of the new European Parliament (MEPs) gather in the French city of Strasbourg on July 2, the largest national group present in all the EU will be the MEPs of Britain’s new Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage.
While the 29 newly elected Brexit Party MEPs intend to upend the EU, their success has potentially transformed British politics. The latest national opinion polls show that the Brexit Party would win a Parliamentary election. It leads with 26 percent of the vote, ahead of Labour with 22 percent, and the Tories with 17 percent.
Because of Farage’s influence, it is increasingly difficult to speak any more about a divide between left versus right. The new divide in British politics is between Brexiteers and Remainers.
When Prime Minister Theresa May failed yet again to reach a Brexit deal, Britain had to take part in the European Parliament elections. In response to this, Nigel Farage founded a new party called the Brexit Party. Within a week of the April 12 election start, 100,000 people had paid the £25 subscription fee and a single businessman had donated £200,000. The groundswell carried through to the polls. Just 45 days later, Farage’s Brexit Party won by a landslide and got more seats than both the Tories and Labour combined. Indeed the Tory result—just 8.8 percent of the vote—was the party’s worst in a national election since 1832.
Such an extraordinary state of affairs shows us why Farage must surely rank as one of the most important British politicians of the post-war period. One who, ironically, has never even been elected to the British Parliament.
This chain-smoking, beer-drinking 55-year-old Englishman with the gift of gab has lived what can only be called a charmed life. He survived being run over by a car as a young man and a light-aircraft crash in 2010, plus testicular cancer to boot.
Farage’s political journey began in 1990 as a commodites trader in the City of London. The event that triggered his move into public life was the decision by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to take Britain into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Farage saw this as the dress rehearsal for the United Kingdom’s adoption of the Euro. And proof that the Common Market, as originally called a free trade area, really was morphing into a political union.
Until that moment, his goals were limited to doing well in the commodities trade. Now he felt he had to fight. He loved Europe, and his second wife, Kirsten, was a German, but he viewed the European Union as imperialist and anti-democratic.
Farage then became a founding member of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) whose aim was to get Britain out of the EU. It was swifly derided as a refugee camp for disaffected Tories and fruitcakes of every stripe. Neverthless, in 1999 he was elected an MEP, and has remained one ever since.
Fast forward to the 2014 European Parliament elections, in which UKIP won more seats than any other British party. This convinced Tory then-Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a referendum on Brexit. While the Tory Party had always been split on Britain’s membership in the EU, Cameron was confident the Remain side would win. He saw the referendum as a way to settle the issue of EU membership once and for all for his party. But he didn’t win—Britain voted in favour of Brexit.
After the Brexit referendum triumph, Farage surprised everyone by announcing his retirement from the UKIP leadership in 2016, saying that he felt he had accomplished his mission.
The failure of British politicians to deliver on the Brexit referendum brought Farage back with a vengeance. Theresa May and the British Parliament have only themselves to blame for the complete disconnect on Brexit between the British Parliament and the British people and the dramatic rise of the Brexit Party.
His stunning achievement at this year’s European elections may not change the arithmetic inside the British Parliament but it sends a powerful message that Britain’s parliamentarians will find hard to ignore. The British people are angry that the British government has not delivered Brexit. Farage grasped this and set up his new Brexit Party to articulate this anger.
Both the Tories and Labour are now terrified that the new Brexit Party would defeat them at a general election.
The results of the European Parliamentary elections in Britain have produced some delicious ironies. The Brexit Party’s new status as the biggest faction in the European Parliament needs to be put in perspective.
The Brexit Party even outnumbers Angela Merkel’s center-right CDU in Germany which got 28 seats. For decades the CDU was the largest faction in the European Parliament. The Brexit Party also dwarfs the 21 seats won by La République En Marche!—the liberal elite party founded by French President Emmanuel Macron who has declared war on populism and whose imperialist mission is to inflict ever closer union on the citizens of Europe’s nation-states.
Meanwhile, Matteo Salvini’s populist-right Lega Nord in Italy won 28 seats, itself a remarkable result. This confirms Salvini as the de facto leader of the ever more popular eurosceptic populist movement in Europe.
Here are some crucial facts:
Three quarters of Britain’s MPs voted in favour of remaining in the EU at the 2016 referendum, including Prime Minister Theresa May.
Nearly all these MPs pledged to respect the referendum result and enact the will of the British people who had voted 52 percent in favour of leaving the EU.
In March 2017, Parliament voted by an enormous majority to invoke Article 50 —the two-year process set out in the EU’s 2007 Lisbon Treaty on the secession of a member state.
Under British and EU law this meant Britain was now legally bound to leave the EU by the end of March 2019, either with a deal or without one.
At the June 8, 2017, general election the two main parties—Conservative and Labour—pledged in their manifestos to honor the referendum result and leave the EU which meant specifically leaving both the customs union and the single market.
On June 28, 2017, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act received the royal assent after being approved by large majorities in both houses of Parliament which set in law Britain’s withdrawal from the EU in March 2019 with or without a deal.
May repeatedly told the British people “No deal is better than a bad deal” and “We leave the EU on 29th March.”
However, it soon became clear that neither she nor other MPs had any intention of honouring the promises they had made on a real Brexit.
May clearly negotiated a deal with the EU which was not Brexit at all. It boiled down to a fudge that would keep Britain tied to the EU’s customs union and thus to the jurisdiction of the European Court and thus in the EU in all but name.
What did that have to do with the key Brexit slogan during the referendum campaign, “Let’s Take Back Control?”
As the head of a government with a slim majority there was a limit to what May could have done anyway. Her own Conservative Party is deeply split on the issue, as is Labour.
Desperate to secure any deal, she took a “no deal” off the negotiating table. But she could not even get the numbers required in Parliament and her deal was rejected three times. A different Prime Minister might have succeeded.
But not if they tried to get a deal with Brussels at all costs as she did.
The only way to leave the EU was—and remains—to leave with no deal. If the EU then wants a deal, fine, let it offer one.
May must share much of the blame for the failure to deliver Brexit, but so must Parliament, which has been determined to stop Brexit from the word “go.”
The Conservatives will now elect a new leader and therefore Prime Minister who will have to get their version of Brexit past Parliament by October 31.
Unless the new Prime Minister is going to revive May’s failed deal, then Britian will have to leave the EU with no deal—something an overwhelming majority of MPs refuse to contemplate.
Countless experts, plus most of the mainstream media led by The Guardian newspaper, shout that this would be an economic catastrophe. But it’s not clear that would be the result. Rather, it means trading on World Trade Organization terms with the EU—which is how most of the world trades. That would hardly amount to a disaster.
Every Brexiteer in the land worth his salt—regardless of the experts and the mainstream media—would cheer to the rafters any Prime Minister who delivered a no-deal Brexit. And a no-deal is what Boris Johnson, a favorite to succeed Mrs. May, has promised.
The only other alternative would be a general election in an attempt to drain the swamp and get a new Parliament with a majority of genuinely pro-Brexit MPs.
But right now the Conservatives are terrified of a general election after the mess they have made of Brexit. And so they will not call one, except under extreme duress.
Extreme duress is coming to them, in the form of Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party. It is thanks to Farage alone that the British were given the referendum on membership of the EU.
Farage himself is a little more circumspect and even surprised by this. In a discussion with LBC radio after his European Election triumph he told listeners that he had learned two things from the campaign:
In the modern world, politics can change incredibly quickly. It took the Labour Party 45 years from their birth to becoming a majority government. It took the Brexit Party 45 days from its launch to become the biggest party in a national election. How come? Social media. Social media, the use of video, has changed absolutely everything. Don’t be surprised if you see further big changes in politics.
The second lesson I’ve learned is that the two parties that have absolutely dominated politics since 1918—and of course I’m talking about the Labour Party and the Conservative Party—I’ve learned that they are both in real trouble.And unless they change quite radically you could see a situation where within the next couple of years they are no longer serious forces in British politics.
Farage is adamant. If the new Tory leader fails to get Britain out of the EU by October 31, then he will lead the Brexit Party against it in the general election contest that would inevitably result.
This is not just about Brexit—he has realized—but democracy.
“What we are now fighting for is much, much bigger than Brexit,” Farage told supporters at a rally in Shoreham-by-Sea, just before European elections. “What we are now fighting for is the survival of the very principle of democracy in this country.”