Since he stood down most of his Brexit Party candidates to help Boris Johnson win his 80-seat majority in last year’s General Election, we haven’t heard too much from arguably the most important and loudest voice in British politics outside of Westminster: Nigel Farage. But his relative silence and absence from the political scene may not last much longer.
There has in fact been only one issue on which the former UKIP leader has been making a biggish splash lately: illegal immigration. Farage – once again demonstrating his unerring ability to put his finger on the British electorate’s most sensitive G-spot – has staged a solo campaign to highlight the stream of illicit migrants, mostly young men from the Middle East, arriving unchecked on Britain’s shores in a never-ending fleet of rubber dinghies.
Before Farage raised the subject on his LBC radio show and with his huge social media profile, no other politician had as much as mentioned it. His loud campaign saw him lose his radio spot but it propelled the issue to national consciousness, forcing Home Secretary Priti Patel to make some feeble remarks which failed to explain the Government’s total incompetence.
On Brexit, however, Farage has held his peace and played a long game. Like the rest of us, Farage is waiting for the outcome of Britain’s talks with Brussels on our future status following our official departure from the EU in January. He has said, probably with his tongue firmly in cheek, that he trusts Boris to stand firm, protect our interests, and, if necessary, revert to WTO rules if a reasonable trade deal proves impossible to negotiate by this year’s end.
But Farage knows Boris all too well and is well aware of the PM’s chequered history of U-turns, broken promises, vague blather, cave-ins, and general lack of loyalty to any ideal, principle, or indeed person not serving his own immediate opportunist purpose. In short, Mr F. is waiting for Boris to bend the knee to Brussels, betray Brexit, and revert to some sort of May-lite botched deal. If this feared outcome does come to pass, what does Farage propose to do about it?
Farage has risen from the political dead for a third time to force the Tories to do his bidding
There are two clues in the wind. Firstly, Farage’s own limelight-loving personality and his record. Love him or loathe him, – and he would acknowledge that he has as many foes as fans – since he was one of the eight people who founded UKIP in the 1990s, Nigel Farage has devoted most of his waking moments to the aim of separating Britain from the clammy toils of the EU and restoring her freedom and independence. In that single-minded goal, almost miraculously, he has succeeded. Few would deny that without him UKIP would not have grown from a group of eccentric malcontents into a formidable movement that menaced the Tories and forced David Cameron into calling – and losing – the 2016 Brexit referendum. For good or ill, Farage was the main begetter of that epochal event. Is it likely, then, that this quintessential political animal would simply fold his arms and let a slippery shyster wreck that momentous achievement?
The second clue lies in the continued existence of the Brexit Party. This organisation was created by Farage from a standing start in 2019 when it became clear that Theresa May intended to railroad her party and Parliament into passing a Brino (Brexit in name only) deal that would have kept the country tamely subservient to the EU it had clearly rejected in the referendum. Within four months of its creation, the party swept the country in the European elections of 2019, topping the polls with 29 seats and reducing the Tories to a rump of just nine.
This triumph led to the fall of May, the election of Boris Johnson as Tory leader and the landslide win in last December’s General Election on his pledge to “Get Brexit done”. Twice, then, – in 2016 and 2019 – a Lazarus-like Nigel Farage has arisen from the political dead to force the Tories to do his bidding. He is preparing now to do the same again for a third time.
As political journalist and one-time UKIP MEP Patrick O’Flynn pointed out, a recent poll put support for the Brexit Party at four percent, despite the fact that it has been completely dormant since last year. As soon as Farage’s party is active again, O’Flynn predicted, it will hoover up the votes of discontented Brexiteers and threaten an increasingly unpopular Tory party all over again.
The bad news for Boris is that the Brexit party is indeed showing distinct signs of returning to life and doing just that, although possibly under the new name of the Reform Party. It has recently been conducting a series of online polls surveying its members and supporters to seek their views on a range of issues besides the EU, including immigration and law and order.
The government’s mismanagement of Covid-19, which it has handled with all the finesse of a baby chimpanzee juggling a piece of Sevres china, has opened the way for any number of future botches and betrayals of both its seasoned supporters and the Red Wall working classes who lent the Tories their votes in December. So, when will Nigel strike?
My guess is that once November’s US Presidential election – in which he has been helping his friend Donald Trump – is out of the way, and the current Brexit talks end in betrayal or failure in December; with unemployment rocketing, economic woes mounting, and the bitter winds of winter chilling, Nigel Farage will return with a populist programme of policies for Britain beyond Brexit, and there will be no shortage of ears ready to hear him.
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