Nigel Farage: Britain's 'most divisive politician' is back

The longtime Eurosceptic is standing in July’s general election for Reform UK—the new right-wing British party—which could bring some much-needed dynamism to the election campaign

An experienced campaigner, Farage has been the face of Euroscepticism in the UK for nearly three decades and led the Brexit Party.
Laura Salafia
An experienced campaigner, Farage has been the face of Euroscepticism in the UK for nearly three decades and led the Brexit Party.

Nigel Farage: Britain's 'most divisive politician' is back

As the man most closely associated with the UK’s decision to vote for Brexit in the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union, Nigel Farage has come to be regarded as one of the most divisive figures in British politics.

An arch-critic of the immigration policies pursued by successive British governments in recent years, his close personal friendship with former US President Donald Trump means that he continues to maintain a high profile on the British political scene, even though he has failed on numerous occasions to win a seat in the British House of Commons.

But that could be about to change following his surprise announcement on 3 June, when Farage announced that he would stand in July’s general election for Reform UK—the new right-wing British party that has been set up to rival the mainstream Conservatives. At the same time, Farage will take over as the party's leader. After previously saying he would not stand in July’s general election, Farage is standing as Reform's candidate in the English seaside resort of Clacton—where residents voted overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit in 2016.

The former UKIP and Brexit Party leader said he had changed his mind after spending time on the campaign trail, adding he did not want to let his supporters down. The Essex seat, which was the first to elect a UKIP MP in 2014, has a Conservative majority of 24,702. Announcing his candidacy, Farage said he wanted to lead a “political revolt,” adding: “Yes, a revolt. A turning of our backs on the political status quo. It doesn't work. Nothing in this country works anymore.”

He also predicted the Conservatives are likely to be in opposition after the general election. “They are split down the middle on policy, and frankly, right now, they don't stand for a damn thing,” Farage declared. “So our aim in this election is to get many, many millions of votes. And I’m talking about far more votes than UKIP got back in 2015.”

Decision to stand

After undertaking a successful spell of general campaigning for Reform in the north of the country and in Dover at the start of the general election campaign, Farage had made his mind up to stand, but he confided his decision only to senior advisers, including Andrew Reid, his lawyer and friend. He did not tell the then-Reform leader, Richard Tice, until the following Monday for fear of leaks. Reform is a limited company, and Farage holds 53% to Tice’s 33%, so he has the upper hand, in spite of Tice’s financial loan of £1.4mn to set up the party.

Darren Staples / AFP
Leader of Reform UK Nigel Farage signs a placard during a visit to Ashfield in south England on June 11, 2024, ahead of the UK general election of July 4.

The belated entry of Farage into the UK election campaign, with voters due to go to the polls on 4 July, is certainly set to liven up an election campaign that so far has failed to generate much enthusiasm among voters after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made the surprise move to call an election this summer, rather than waiting until the autumn, as many commentators had expected.

An experienced campaigner, Farage has been the face of Euroscepticism in the UK for nearly three decades. He campaigned for Brexit as leader of UKIP—a party specifically set up to campaign for the UK’s exit from the European Union— and then went on to lead the Brexit Party and now Reform UK. Throughout his political career, he has moved between politics and media roles and between political parties.

Controversial from the get-go

The son of a stockbroker, he was born in Kent in 1964 and attended private school Dulwich College in South London. Fellow pupils remember him as a student keen on provoking students and teachers with controversial statements. At 18, he decided not to go to university, becoming a trader on the London Metal Exchange in 1982.

Farage left the Conservative party after the UK signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which called for an “ever-closer union” among European nations. He was a founding member of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), then a tiny fringe group and first ran unsuccessfully for parliament in 1994 in the Eastleigh by-election. He was elected to the European Parliament as MEP for South-East England in 1999 and stayed there until 2020.

After becoming leader of UKIP for the first time in 2006, he became a familiar face on TV and achieved a breakthrough at the 2009 European elections, where UKIP got more votes than Labour and the Lib Dems. He then played a leading role in the 2016 Brexit referendum. After the vote in favour of the UK leaving the EU, he resigned from UKIP.

After the UK voted to leave the EU, but before it left, he launched the Brexit Party in April 2019. After Brexit, his party changed its name to Reform UK. Farage left front-line politics in 2021 and embarked on a television career as a presenter on the newly established GB News. Founded in 2021 as the re-launch of the Brexit Party, Reform has grown in popularity in the polls at the cost to the Conservatives.

Until Farage's decision to stand, the Reform Party was regarded as very much on the fringe of British politics.

Staunchly anti-immigrant

On the right of the Tory party, it is mainly focused on cutting immigration, and while Sunak and opposition Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer have put the economy at the front and centre of their pitch to voters, Farage has said he will just fight the election on the issue of immigration.

Until Farage's decision to stand, the Reform Party was regarded as very much on the fringe of British politics. Until recently, it had no MPs, only gaining its first representative in the Commons in March after former Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson defected following his suspension from parliament over comments he made about London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

One of the party's key campaign pledges is to impose a tax on businesses in the UK that continue to employ overseas workers.  This would mean that firms pay a 20% higher rate of national insurance for foreign workers, up from the current 13.8%. Reform is also opposed to Labour's plans to end private school tax exemptions. It wants the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, which the Strasbourg court oversees, in order to use offshore processing centres for illegal immigrants and prevent them from claiming asylum.

On energy, the party wants to scrap net zero plans and instead increase drilling for gas and oil. Other policies include offering vouchers to go private if you can't see a GP in three days, scrapping interest on student loans, increasing police numbers, keeping "woke ideologies out of the classroom", abolishing the TV licence fee, reforming the Lords and reducing "wasteful spending".

It may be too soon to feel the full effect of Farage's decision to stand as a Reform candidate, but an early Sky News survey put Labour at 40%, the Tories at 19%, and Reform at 17%. This will certainly worry some Conservatives, who fear losing voters on the right of their party to Reform UK now that Farage is leader.

If nothing else, Farage's decision to stand in an election that has otherwise been sorely lacking in appeal will be guaranteed to bring some much-needed dynamism to the campaign, which may even result in the Reform leader securing a seat in the next British parliament.

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