In the U.S., he’s just another obscure British politician. In the U.K., however, he’s as famously divisive as Donald Trump is in America.
Nigel Farage is the former leader of the hard-right U.K. Independence Party and the most powerful politician who's not been elected to hold office in the United Kingdom. You might be tempted to think, because you’ve (probably) never heard of him, that Farage must not be all that significant. But don’t be fooled. This is the chief architect of Brexit, the man who more than anyone convinced British voters to take their country out of the European Union in June. And now he’s joined Donald Trump to recruit American voters on the campaign trail.
On Wednesday evening, Farage flew to Mississippi to appear before a crowd of Trumpeteers and sound off in his typically offbeat, clamorous style. Many of those in the audience probably knew little to nothing about Farage, had likely never even heard him speak before. This was helpful for him because it meant he could do what he has always done best: tell a story based on half-truths and lies and not have to deal with the inconvenience of being corrected.
Farage didn’t explicitly endorse Trump last week, but he came close. In boasting of his own "success" story, he explained that the political underdog can indeed overcome the odds (and the polls) and be crowned a winner. “I wouldn’t vote for Clinton if you paid me,” Farage said. Brexit, Britain’s bid for “independence,” had liberated the nation, he said; it had allowed the British people to “take back control of their country, take back control of their borders and restore their pride and self-respect.” He was, in his own eccentrically compelling way, implicitly urging U.S. voters to vote for someone who has throughout the 2016 election cycle promised to give them the same.
Don’t pay any attention, America. For while Nigel Farage, often seen in press photos quaffing pints and smoking cigs in a range of sweat-soaked suits, has an honest, ordinary-bloke quality that endears him to voters, that image does not reflect the reality. Farage has not had the success that Trump has had, but there are still broad parallels. Farage was privately educated in his youth, then entered adult life as a Reagan-era businessman — a London stockbroker to be specific — before cashing in and becoming a populist, isolationist, tax-avoiding politician. Quick to criticize the European Union for wasteful spending from Day One, Farage has unbeknown to his ardent followers often treated the EU as a cash cow, pocketing millions in expenses and using EU taxpayer money to employ friends and family, as well as set up new U.K. Independence Party-fronted parties.
Similar what's true about Donald Trump, there is a vast difference between Nigel Farage’s "regular guy" image and the man he really is. Guardian columnist Nick Cohen once described Farage as “England’s greatest living hypocrite.” He’s a Eurosceptic with a German wife, a self-confessed “poor” politician who also happens to be a millionaire. It’s probable only a few Trump supporters know enough about this fake common man, but Nigel Farage has never known what it’s like to truly be an underdog. And because tales of his exploits rarely cross the pond, those same Trump supporters may be unaware that Farage is also greatly overstating his achievements.
Farage’s talk of Brexit “success” is based on a fantasy of a glorious latter-day British Empire he has been peddling since well before the EU vote. Farage wants American voters to think Brexit is a reason to cast their own radical vote in November. But those same voters should know that Brexit has objectively been a disaster. Like Trump, Farage has taken advantage of the present post-truth climate to lie and emotionally manipulate his way to victory. This is how he and the "leave" campaign managed to take Britain out of the European Union. Now Farage finds himself in a new land, confident that his words have the power to change nations.
Farage stood alongside Donald Trump on Wednesday and claimed to be bringing a “message of hope and optimism” for voters aiming to “stand up against the establishment.” But Farage is the establishment, and his message has never been hopeful. Like Trump, he has exploited voter fears by stoking anti-immigrant sentiment, even going further than Trump by using posters apparently inspired by Nazi propaganda in his campaigns.
Away from Britain, Nigel Farage now presents himself as a trustworthy beacon of success. But the outcome of Brexit, his brainchild, reveals him as nothing but a failure, one whose own former party has already begun to disown him. Farage isn’t offering a real “revolution,” America. U.K. Independence Party officials in the past have described Farage as a “dictator” who only sees his political career “as a means for getting power.” The day after the Brexit vote, the pound was plummeting, the United Kingdom was divided and ready to split and Farage had resigned his post as U.K. Independence Party leader, leaving Britain to clean up the mess he had convinced it to make.
Donald Trump has been called the most dangerous man in the world, but he’s still yet to break any countries. Nigel Farage, on the other hand, already has. Don’t trust him for a second.