(Bloomberg) — One of Britain’s most controversial politicians — Nigel Farage — returned to front-line campaigning to fight for Brexit.
Farage, the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, is spearheading a new vehicle — the Brexit Party — which launched its campaign for next month’s European Parliament elections on Friday.
Addressing more than 100 supporters at a metalworking factory in the pro-Brexit city of Coventry, England, Farage slammed the political establishment as incompetent and said he’d placed a 1,000-pound ($1,300) bet on his party coming top in the elections. He also announced Annunziata Rees-Mogg — sister of Jacob, a darling of the Brexiteer wing of the ruling Conservatives — as a Brexit Party candidate.
“What we’ve seen over the course of the last few weeks is the willful betrayal of the greatest democratic exercise in the history of this nation,” he said, sporting a blue suit and socks adorned with the British flag. “We are lions led by donkeys.”
Prime Minister Theresa May has twice negotiated to delay Brexit past the original deadline of March 29. While the government does not want to hold the European parliament election scheduled for May 23, it’s conceded it will need to go ahead if the Brexit deal she negotiated with the European Union is not ratified in time. Parliament has voted it down three times.
Euroskeptics such as Farage are dismayed that Brexit has been delayed — the U.K. is currently scheduled to remain inside the EU until Oct. 31 if Parliament does not approve the divorce agreement before then. They’re also concerned politicians are trying to reverse the result of the 2016 referendum decision.
“There’s no reason for a population to behave peacefully if they can’t achieve change through the ballot box,” said James Potter, 59, a retired solicitor from Leicestershire who’d traveled 25 miles (40 kilometers) to hear Farage speak. “There’s a complete political hatchet job. I’m frightened by this political failure to deliver on the referendum.”
Rees-Mogg said she was ditching the Conservative Party over May’s handling of the divorce, after campaigning for them at every election since 1987.
“My country needs to be recognized in the democratic way that it has called for,” she told the audience. “Our politicians need to listen to what the people have said.”
Farage said another lifelong Conservative, Quidnet Capital Partners LLP Chief Executive Officer Richard Tice, will chair the new party.
“Enough is enough,” said Tice, who also chaired one of the main groups campaigning for Leave in the 2016 referendum. “It’s time we took on the vested interests, it’s time we took on the establishment, it’s time we took on the civil service.”
Farage, 55, has been a thorn in the side of the ruling Conservative Party since former Prime Minister David Cameron took office in 2010. His brand of uncompromising euroskepticism tempted senior Tory politicians to defect to UKIP, which shocked the political establishment in 2014 by winning the popular vote in the European Parliament elections of that year.
Threat to Tories
It was Farage’s electoral threat that persuaded Cameron to promise a referendum on EU membership, and he put it in the Conservative Party manifesto in the 2015 general election. Britain voted a year later to exit the bloc and Cameron — who campaigned to remain — resigned as prime minister.
Farage predicted a political “revolution” as rising disillusionment at May’s handling of Brexit builds momentum for his new party. At least one Tory member of Parliament is considering voting for the Brexit Party if the elections go ahead. According to Farage, it has received 750,000 pounds in small donations online since it launched 10 days ago. A party spokesman said a single large donor had contributed 200,000 pounds.
While officials are preparing for the elections to be held, May’s office insists she could cancel the vote as late as the day before — if her deal is ratified. But Farage said that would be a big mistake, making voters who feel they’re being denied the Brexit they opted for in 2016 “even more furious.”
Farage said he saw EU elections as just the first step for his party, which he predicted could threaten the major parties by shifting the center of political gravity “a little bit closer back towards the people, where it needs to be.”
“The fight back begins here in Coventry today,” he said.
(Updates with quotes from Farage, Tice, starting in fourth paragraph.)
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