NOVEMBER 15, 2016 – After helping secure the shock vote for Brexit, UKIP leader Nigel Farage pulled off another coup by becoming the first British politician to meet Donald Trump, upsetting the establishment once again.
Long dismissed as a political outsider who had failed repeatedly to win a seat in the House of Commons, Farage stunned Britain and the world when he helped deliver the June vote to leave the European Union.
Five months later, Trump’s victory has again propelled the UK Independence Party (UKIP) interim leader into the limelight.
Farage had campaigned for Trump, believing the Republican billionaire — who many thought could never win — had tapped into similar anger over globalisation and ruling elites as the anti-EU campaign in Britain.
When Trump won last week, Farage returned to the United States and on Saturday met the future leader of the free world at his headquarters in New York.
A photo of the two men — Farage grinning broadly and Trump giving a thumbs up — was widely published in Britain, with one headline reading: “The victory of the outsiders.”
Farage has now offered to act as a conduit between the incoming US administration and British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government, suggesting that fences needed mending between the two sides.
But May’s spokeswoman noted the premier had been invited to Washington during a phone call with Trump last week and pointedly said that there was no need for a “third person” in their relationship.
Conservative former foreign minister Malcolm Rifkind meanwhile said Farage’s visit was about “celebrity politics” while Labour former foreign minister Margaret Beckett said: “It was not a diplomatic trip, it was an ego trip.”
– ‘Think out of the box’ –
But some ministers are reportedly in favour of Farage’s offer if it helps Britain build strong trade ties after Brexit, amid some unease about future relations with a US president who challenges the established liberal order.
“We live in very unconventional times politically at the moment and we need to think out of the box,” former Conservative defence minister Gerald Howarth told BBC radio, saying it was “worth talking to” Farage.
Professor Rob Ford, an expert in the radical right at Britain’s University of Manchester, said Farage could well be a useful conduit into a Trump White House.
“There’s a clear personal connection there, and Trump seems to be the kind of guy who values those kind of relationships,” he told AFP.
However, Ford doubted if the offer of helping the government was serious.
“That was classic Farage. It enables him to show off his friendship and wind up the kind of people in the Conservative party who annoy him,” he said.
– A good year –
Relations between UKIP and May’s Conservatives have always been frosty, particularly as UKIP began wooing Tory voters.
Farage was excluded from the official Brexit campaign, but he steered the debate towards immigration, a winning strategy, despite accusations of racism.
Although he was educated privately and once worked as a commodities trader, Farage has carefully cultivated an image as an ordinary “everyman”, honed over hours spent in the pub.
He promoted the idea that a vote for Brexit was a vote against the established order — a message he took to Mississippi when he stumped for Trump in August.
By then, Farage had quit the leadership of UKIP, the party he co-founded in 1993 and for which he has been a member of the European Parliament (MEP) since 1999.