Nigel Farage will see the referendum result as a personal victory
But his campaigning has at times been described as "hate-filled"
Farage and his UKIP party oppose the EU and the influx of migrants
If history casts UK Prime Minister David Cameron in the villain role following Britain’s exit from the European Union, then Nigel Farage may well be remembered as the puppet master in the wings.
As it became clear that more than half of the nearly 33 million referendum voters had cast their ballots to leave the EU, Farage – the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) – declared it a “victory for real people, a victory for ordinary people, a victory for decent people.”
It was a sudden return to prominence for Farage, who was not part of the official Leave campaign but had certainly been on the sidelines, fanning the flames of revolt among the Eurosceptics in Cameron’s party.
“Let’s stop pretending what this European project is,” the UKIP leader said in his last speech before Thursday’s vote. “They have an anthem, they are building an army, they’ve already got their own police force and of course they’ve got a flag.”
So who is Nigel Farage?
For many years Farage has operated on the political fringes – ironically, as a member of the European Parliament – campaigning against the EU and its looming shadow over British sovereignty. A former Conservative, he left the party in 1992 after Britain signed the Maastricht Treaty, which led to the creation of the European Union and its common currency, the euro. He became a founding member of UKIP, which opposed Maastricht and had a mandate to move Britain away from Europe.
But neither he nor his party have enjoyed particular success in mainstream British politics. UKIP currently has only one lawmaker in parliament – he failed to win a seat in the 2010 and 2015 general elections – and more often than not, Farage has found himself ridiculed and ostracized as a political eccentric. At one point he was more likely to be seen on satirical British TV show “Have I got news for you.”
He almost stepped away from politics after offering to resign as UKIP leader after the 2015 election, but party members urged him to stay on. The party actually increased its share of the national vote but found themselves with only one parliamentary seat due to the UK’s “first-past-the-post” voting system.
Why is he controversial?
With his bullish and “blokey” style, Farage’s comments have long been manna from heaven for headlines writers. He once revealed that he feels “awkward” on London trains because he only hears foreign languages being spoken. “The fact that in scores of our cities and market towns, this country in a short space of time has frankly become unrecognizable,” he was quoted by London’s Evening Standard as saying.
“Whether it is the impact on local schools and hospitals, whether it is the fact in many parts of England you don’t hear English spoken any more. This is not the kind of community we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.”
But many critics look past his ebullient demeanor, accusing him of peddling racist and xenophobic views – especially when it comes to his “pet project,” immigration. Farage believes Britain’s open immigration policy agreed with the EU has led to an influx of people that have damaged cohesion and created divisions within society.
“We find ourselves, for the benefit of tariff-free trade, having to accept unlimited free movement of people,” he said earlier this month.
Farage also unveiled a campaign poster before the vote with the words “Breaking Point. The EU has failed us all,” showing an image of migrants entering Europe last year. Opposition politicians dismissed it as “divisive” and “hate-filled.”
His ‘Brexit’ triumph?
Friday, June 24 will undoubtedly go down as a personal victory for Farage. His views on immigration clearly hit home with a large number of people in Britain, who fear growing migration levels threaten to overwhelm already stretched health and housing services in the UK.
In an interview with CNN Friday, Farage said: “I was written off as being a lunatic, and politically the support for this was absolutely tiny. So when we got to 10 o’clock last night I almost dared not to hope that what I’ve dreamed of would happen. But it did! That little idea was considered a little kooky, and 17 million voted for it yesterday and I couldn’t be happier.”
But he warned that the vote will not be in vain.
“The first thing that happens is I lead the biggest British delegation in Europe in parliament, he told CNN. “We’re going to watch these negotiations like a hawk to make sure it’s done properly. UKIP needs to stay strong to make sure the government actually carries out the wishes of the people. We’ve won the vote to become an independent nation. We now need to make sure it does actually happen.
“So even if they [the EU] try to buy us off with a little concession, what we’ve voted for is very very clear. We’ve voted to make our laws, run our own country, control our own borders.”
What about the 48% who voted to remain?
He struck a conciliatory tone.
“I’d say to them ‘listen, our trading relationship today is exactly the same as it was yesterday. What we now have is a period of transition, with which we can get a sensible deal with our European neighbors.’ The exciting thing is we can do more globally. We are going to be better off as a result of this. Don’t worry.”
Journalist Bianca Britton contributed to this report.