‘No more Mr Nice Guy’ - Farage is back with his Brexit Party and this time he’s Mr Angry
Ex-Ukip leader promises ‘democratic revolution’ as he launches party
A few hundred people are crowded into a warehouse belonging to an industrial cleaning company, in an area called Longford in Coventry. It’s a peculiar setting for the launch of a new political party, but then almost everything about Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party is a bit unusual.
The atmosphere in the warehouse is like a pop concert for the Leave-voting pensioners of Middle England. There are Brexit party T-shirts and posters and official lanyards.
“You don’t even have to speak Nigel,” someone behind me shouts, when he finally appears, taking his place to whoops and cheers on the podium that has been set up alongside a forklift truck to launch “a new force in British politics”.
Why are you here, I ask John Moore, who was come along with his daughter. “To see Nigel Farage,” he says immediately.
What does he like about him? “What’s not to like?” He has a photo at home of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, his two heroes. Moore hates Leo Varadkar because of his insistence on the backstop which guarantees an open Border in Ireland no matter what - “he’s stabbed us in the back after we bailed you out during austerity.” The easiest thing, he suggests, would be for Ireland to come back to the United Kingdom.
“Taking back” seems to have evolved into the more forceful “fighting back”, which is the party’s slogan. Farage promises “the fight back begins here in Coventry today…What we have seen over the past few weeks is the wilful betrayal of the greatest democratic exercise in the history of this nation,” he says.
He reminds the crowd that “I did say if I ever had to come back into the political spectrum, there’d be no more Mr Nice Guy. And I mean it. I’m angry about what’s happened.”
Why don’t you just rejoin the United Kingdom
“So are we!” someone calls out.
He mentions his powerful friends in other English-speaking countries - judging by the approving titters, the crowd takes this to mean Trump. Those friends, he says, are looking on with incredulity at this once-great nation. “We are lions led by donkeys,” he says of the current British government, promising a “rebirth of democracy” and a “democratic revolution”.
Despite the protests outside chanting “refugees are welcome here”, it is clear the Brexit Party is meant to be the newer, more respectable face of the more extreme wing of the pro-Brexit movement.
“In Ukip, there seems to be a complete obsession, not just with Islam, but with all of its adherents, and it has attracted a fairly loutish fringe element. I don’t think that middle England decent people want to vote for a political party that is linked to extremism.”
He has promised more than 70 European election candidates, and says “thousands more have applied”. He will have “the most impressive list of candidates that anyone has put before the British people in history,” but today he’s only unveiling four of them. Earlier, there were rumours Piers Morgan might be one, but he doesn’t materialise. Two, it’s fair to say, are not household names. The third, the big surprise candidate, Annunziata Rees-Mogg, is, though that may be by virtue of her more famous sibling. The fourth is entrepreneur, Richard Tice.
I ask if he is successful in making the case for leaving under WTO rules, how he would propose avoiding a hard border in Ireland.
“Well, I don’t know who’s going to build this hard border,” he says. “Because we’re not going to build a hard border. The Taoiseach said the Republic of Ireland won’t build a hard border. Mr Barnier has said that the European Union isn’t going to build a hard border. Whether or not Donald Trump is coming over, I’m not sure.”
“He likes hard borders,” somebody shouts.
“Three weeks ago when there was speculation about whether we would be leaving under WTO rules, there were very firm statements by the Commission and Dublin saying there would be no hard border. And yet with the withdrawal treaty there was a backstop. So, look, it is all nonsense.
The best option “particularly for Irish farmers and people like that, is we leave on WTO rules and the European Union will come running down the street after us wanting a tariff free deal.”
As the event wraps up a man behind me tells me loves Ireland. “Why don’t you just rejoin the United Kingdom,” he asks, the second time I’ve heard that question today.