President Donald Trump’s circle of international political support just grew a little bit smaller after a major nationalist figure in British politics stepped down from a leading role.
Nigel Farage, a Trump ally and an on-again, off-again leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), was a driving force behind the 2016 Brexit referendum. But Farage announced on Tuesday that he is leaving the UKIP over its leader’s embrace of the controversial Tommy Robinson and “obsession” with Islam, which Farage fears will ultimately hurt the Brexit cause.
Farage quits UKIP
The U.K. Sun reported that Farage made a big deal out of tearing up his 25-year-old UKIP membership card to display his disgust with the direction the party was headed under the guidance of a new leader, fellow founding member Gerard Batten, who Farage accused of “turning a blind eye to extremist politics.”
At the heart of the issue for Farage is Batten’s embrace of Tommy Robinson, a controversial figure who heads the anti-Islamic migration English Defense League organization and was formerly a member of the British National Party, which had been heavily criticized as “racist” and “extremist.”
Speaking on his LBC radio show, Farage explained, “I don’t recognize the party as that I helped to found all those years ago. I think the brand is tarnished. It cannot capitalize on the opportunities being presented to it. So with a very great reluctance, I have, as of now, cancelled my membership of UKIP.”
Farage noted that he still saw a “huge space” in British politics that could be filled by a pro-Brexit party, but lamented that such a space “won’t be filled by UKIP.”
Farage: Extremism will hurt Brexit cause
As for Batten’s embrace of Robinson — specifically their plans to conduct a public march just days prior to a crucial Brexit vote in the House of Commons — Farage feared the march would be “absolutely calamitous,” predicting chaotic street brawls that UKIP’s pro-EU opponents could use to discredit the Brexit movement for years to come.
“Under my leadership of UKIP, the party banned former members of the BNP and EDL from joining. Many accusations of racism and extremism were thrown at us, but I strongly maintain they were untrue,” said Farage. “Under Gerard Batten’s leadership, however, the party’s direction has changed fundamentally. He seems to be obsessed with the religion of Islam and not just Islamic extremism, and UKIP wasn’t founded to be a party based on fighting a religious crusade.”
“He’s also obsessed with this figure Tommy Robinson who is seen by some to be a great hero standing up and fighting for working class people, but who has a pretty suspect record — and who brings with him a group of people amongst which we see scuffles, violence. Many have criminal records, some pretty serious. All of it’s been dragging UKIP away from being an electoral party to a party of street activism … and turning a blind eye to extremist politics,” he warned.
“I have warned this direction was catastrophic, particularly at the time when the great Brexit betrayal is upon us,” said Farage. He added that while it was bad enough that damage was being done to the reputation of UKIP, he lamented that the damage done to “the Brexit cause is even worse.”
It is worth noting that Farage is not alone in his decision to abandon the UKIP that he helped found and has nominally led for years over its recent associations. Several other influential figures and members of European Parliament have stepped aside in recent months as well.
It remains to be seen what will become of both the UKIP and Brexit in the near future, not to mention if Farage will find an acceptable pro-Brexit party to call his own, if not creating a new one altogether. For the good of an independent U.K., not to mention the support of Trump’s overall agenda of economic nationalism, let’s hope so.