Trump-ally Farage waits in the wings as the UK hunts for a leader
The man who President Donald Trump quietly met in London this week looks well positioned to set the tone of the U.K.’s fractured political scene.
Nigel Farage successfully spearheaded a campaign over several years to remove Britain from the EU by forcing the mainstream Conservative Party to hold a referendum. After the vote to leave won, the U.K. was meant to leave the trading bloc at the end of March 2019, but has still not achieved that goal.
Tapping into the apparent public anger at the failure to leave the EU on the original date, Farage has returned to center-stage, leading a newly-formed outfit known as the Brexit Party.
Just six weeks after its registration, the Brexit Party contested the 2019 European Parliament election in late May, taking more than 30% of votes in the U.K. to become the largest single party across Europe.
Prior to arriving in the United Kingdom for a state visit, Trump told reporters that the Brexit Party leader’s success showed that he should now be involved in exit talks with the EU.
“He is a very smart person,” he told the Sunday Times, before adding, “They won’t bring him. Think how well they would do if they did. They just haven’t figured that out yet.”
Following those supportive comments, the pair met at the London home of the U.S. ambassador on Tuesday and Farage subsequently tweeted that the meeting had gone well.
“Good meeting with President Trump — he really believes in Brexit and is loving his trip to London.”
Speaking on his regular radio show on Tuesday, Farage claimed that Britain’s government had shown it was ill-prepared for trade talks and he himself should conduct them when it came to trade deals with his friend Trump.
“Given this lack of preparedness, I am very, very keen to get a delegation of industrialists and business together to fly out to Washington D.C. to meet Bob Lighthizer, who is the Trump administration’s trade negotiator, and perhaps to start these discussions. If the government can’t do it, then maybe others will have to take that initiative,” Farage said.
Prime Minister Farage?
Anna Rosenberg, the head of Europe and U.K. at consultancy Signum Global told CNBC Farage has long “harbored ambitions to become a bigger player in U.K. national politics” and having conquered the European Parliament will now turn his attention to Westminster.
Farage himself has said it is “not the ambition” to be the prime minister of the U.K. and that he is in politics to “do something rather than be something,” but has confirmed he would contest any general election and “absolutely stun” the main parties.
The Brexit Party’s support hit 26% of the vote in the latest Opinium poll for the Observer newspaper published Sunday, which asked people how they would vote in the next Westminster election.
Despite a Conservative Party leadership contest, no general election is planned. But if those poll figures were realized in any actual vote, some estimates put the Brexit Party just 20 seats short of an overall majority.
On Thursday, Farage’s Brexit party failed to win a by-election held in the English constituency of Peterborough, which was held after a Labour party lawmaker was jailed for lying about a speeding offence.
The second-place position for Farage suggested that performing well in a U.K. general election may not be a foregone conclusion.
The Brexit Party has offered no detail on how it would run a country in areas such as education, health, defense, or taxation. Furthermore, members of the Brexit Party straddle right across the political spectrum leading some to argue that a general election campaign would soon reveal internal contradictions and, ultimately, a collapse in support.
However, the party’s stunning rise has led some panicked voices in the ruling Conservative Party to call for a right-wing alliance which delivers Brexit.
Should that occur Farage could demand a senior cabinet position within government, one that might likely help to shape policy on international relations or immigration.
Not a bad result for a man who has failed to be elected as an U.K. Member of Parliament on no fewer than seven occasions.