‘Mr. Brexit’ Set for Win in UK’s European Elections

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip leave a polling station after voting in the European elections in Sonning, England, on Thursday. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

(CN) – Nigel Farage, the controversial far-right politician known as Mr. Brexit for having led the campaign to leave the European Union, is on track for another stunning election victory as his newly formed Brexit Party appears set to win European elections that the United Kingdom was not supposed to participate in.

In the backdrop as Britons went to the polls Thursday, the Brexit chaos only got more intense. British Prime Minister Theresa May was under immense pressure to resign, blamed for botching the delicate handling of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, which has not yet happened. The success of Farage’s Brexit Party only compounded her problems.

In just a few weeks, the Brexit Party has stormed to the head of polls and Farage has once again positioned himself in a place that’s familiar to him: At the center of public approval and opprobrium.

On Monday, Farage became the latest far-right politician in Britain to be doused by a milkshake by a protester. By Thursday, he was grinning triumphantly as he posed for a slew of photographers outside his polling station in southern England where he cast his vote.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage after being hit with a milkshake during a campaign walkabout in Newcastle, England, on Monday. (Tom Wilkinson/PA via AP)

Surveys showed his party potentially claiming 27 out of 73 of Britain’s seats in the European Parliament – seats they don’t want to take because they want Britain out of the European Union.

These elections were not meant to happen, but after the House of Commons deadlocked on Brexit, Britain was forced to hold its own elections to the European Parliament.

And U.K. voters appeared to be in a mood to punish the main parties for their grueling months-long impasse over Brexit which has left Britain politically paralyzed, deeply divided and economically weakened due to the ongoing uncertainty over whether Britain will leave the EU or remain a member.

If confirmed after results are released Sunday night, Farage’s victory would be a stinging rebuke of May and her ruling Conservative Party for their handling of Brexit. It would also give new energy to those pushing for Britain to leave the EU no matter what the costs.

The Tories were polling very poorly, with one poll suggesting they would win a meager 7% of the vote. Potentially, the party could be left without winning a single seat, British media reported.

The opposition Labour Party was doing better, but not much. Surveys showed it picking up as little as 14% of the votes. Many Labour voters apparently were switching to the Liberal Democrats, a smaller party which aims to stop Brexit from happening. They are forecast to get around 15% or more of the vote. 

By comparison, surveys showed Farage’s Brexit Party picking up as much as 37% of the vote – a remarkable tally for a party that began only a few weeks ago.

Farage officially launched his new party in April when it became clear that Britain would likely participate in the European elections after missing a March 29 deadline to leave the EU.

But he’s a reviled figure by many at home and abroad for his track record of racist statements, funding scandals and hard-right policy positions.

During the Brexit campaign, he was the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, a deeply anti-EU party harboring anti-immigrant views. He was accused of stoking fears over immigration and misleading voters with xenophobic posters.

Farage, a Fox News television commentator, is close to U.S. President Donald Trump, who even suggested he become Britain’s ambassador to the United States. Farage shares many of Trump’s views, and like Trump sells himself as a politician of “the people” and rails against “career politicians.” Unlike Trump, though, Farage has spent years as a politician, including 20 years in the European Parliament, where he routinely stood up and ridiculed the institution, drawing boos and rebukes. On other matters, the two men are similar: Both doubt whether the planet is warming due to carbon dioxide emissions and each one rails against how government works.

In a debate this week for the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Farage said the Brexit Party was going to “break the two-party system” in Britain. He called Westminster “rotten to the core.”

In campaigning for the European elections, Farage has cast his party as standing up for the democratic will of the 52% of voters who preferred to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.

“I think this is a moment, whether you are a leaver or a remainer [in the debate over leaving or remaining in the EU] to say promises must be kept because if they’re not trust in the entire democratic system breaks down,” Farage said during the debate.

He favors leaving the EU without the kind of trade deal that May’s government has painstakingly hammered out with the EU to ensure that trade and relations between the U.K. and Europe can continue largely uninterrupted as Britain leaves the bloc. But that deal has turned into a weight around May’s neck because parliamentarians see it as keeping Britain either too closely aligned to the EU or not close enough.

“I take the view that as the fifth biggest economy in the world, speaking English with our friendships in the Commonwealth and America, I think we can do better negotiating our own trade deals than the European Commission can do on our behalf,” Farage said. “I believe in Britain, I believe we are good enough to do that.”

He predicted his party’s victory in the European elections would put “back on the table” discussion of leaving the EU without a deal and that the “talk of a second referendum” on Brexit would be nixed.

“We will get rid of May, and maybe even [Jeremy] Corbyn,” Farage said with glee about what he hoped his victory could achieve. Corbyn, a socialist, is the leader of the Labour Party.

“We’re going to shift the center of gravity of this debate,” he added. “There’s been too much for the past two years of what Westminster wants and to hell with the country. The country now has a chance to speak.”

In debating Farage, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Vince Cable, said Britain would become isolated and weakened by leaving the EU. He dismissed Farage’s argument that Britain could compete effectively on the world stage using World Trade Organization rules.

“There are no rules at the moment, the system is breaking down internationally; you’ve got trade wars,” Cable said. “Britain will be pushed out into the middle of the battlefield undefended.”

He said Brexit would leave Britain badly damaged and divided. He warned that Brexit could even lead to peace breaking down in Northern Ireland if the U.K. was forced to re-establish a border with Ireland.

He argued that Britain should stay in the EU at a time of great global uncertainty and global crises.

“There is a lot to say about being part of the union, and stronger for it,” Cable said. “The world is a dangerous place. You have two superpowers running amok – [Vladimir] Putin in Russia, Trump in America. The system is breaking apart.”

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

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