Last week’s column on Nigel Farage provoked outrage from Brexit Party supporters, and even some of their candidates, who have been bleating on about how unfair it was for me to describe their hero’s politics as hard right, xenophobic and nationalistic.
Apparently, because the Brexit Party is standing candidates of immigrant backgrounds, Farage cannot be guilty of promoting anti-immigrant sentiment. What utter garbage. When he was leader of Ukip, that party put forward candidates of immigrant backgrounds and no one could argue with a straight face that Ukip did not have a racism and anti-immigrant problem then – they still do now.
But something has changed since last week – Farage is finally starting to become subject to the scrutiny he deserves by the mainstream media, and not a moment too soon. Yesterday, on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Farage exploded when the interviewer dared to ask the Brexit Party leader whether he stood by his previous extreme views on a range of topics, not least immigration.
In particular, he was asked whether he stood by the disgraceful and disgusting “Breaking Point” poster he fronted up for Leave.EU during the 2016 EU referendum campaign.
Far from it – not only did he defend it but he boasted that it “transformed politics”. In some ways it did – it took our politics into the gutter.
The poster showed a queue of mostly non-white immigrants and refugees with the caption “Breaking Point: the EU has failed us all”. The poster prompted the general secretary of Unison trade union, Dave Prentis, to make a complaint to the police of incitement of racial hatred.
Marr also asked Farage a series of questions on his other views given he claims he wants to reshape British politics, a project which extends far beyond making Brexit happen.
He was asked whether he still wanted to privatise swaths of the NHS, whether he still thought worrying about global warming was “the stupidest thing in human history”; whether he still wants to roll back gun controls and reintroduce hand guns; whether he still feels people with HIV shouldn’t be allowed into this country, and so on.
In each of the cases I mention above, Farage did not deny he still held these views and, indeed, doubled down on them. Instead, he complained “I’ve never in my life seen a more ridiculous interview than this” later angrily stating “the BBC are now the enemy”, echoing his friend, president Trump’s claims, that the mainstream media are the “enemy of the people”.
Farage is now posing as the defender of democracy but his claim with regard to the BBC, which committed the “crime” of asking reasonable questions and doing their jobs, exposes his casual attitude towards democracy of which a free press is a crucial part.
Hard Brexiteers like Farage and their cheerleaders don’t much like the institutions which are fundamental to a liberal, free democracy – the judiciary (described by the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”), our independent civil service (accused of “fiddling the figures” by Jacob Rees-Mogg), the Bank of England (Brexiteers have called for the governor’s resignation) and backbench MPs defending their constituents jobs against a hard Brexit. They have all been subject to attack, abuse or threat.
The reason we are in this mess is because Brexit, in the form that it was sold to the British people by the Brexit elite – Nigel Farage, Rees-Mogg and others – is impossible to deliver.
This is a generous interpretation – arguably, it was based on a pack of lies, the most notorious of which was the claim that voting to leave the EU would lead to £350m per week extra going to the NHS which even Farage said was a “mistake”.
As Marr pointed out to him, at no point in the 2016 campaign can a public record be found of him saying we should prioritise leaving the EU without a deal, which he now says is essential. This is the tip of the iceberg on the misinformation dished out on the Leave side. That is the democratic outrage here – and Farage is responsible in large part for it.
What we are seeing is the Trumpification of UK politics; the Brexit Party leader is unashamedly lifting pages straight from the US president’s playbook.
Unless good, decent people stand up for the common British values of being open to new ideas and people, respect for people regardless of background and solving today’s challenges together rather than finding who to blame, then our country will be going down a very dark avenue.
This is why it is so important to vote on 23rd May in the European elections. It’s why Change UK made sure to register in time to stand candidates in them – we all have to stand up and be counted in the face of these challenges to the values we hold dear.