Nigel Farage: The populist who pushed Britain to Brexit

Nigel Farage, the leader of the UKIP, speaks at a news conference in central London, on July 4, 2016.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the UKIP, speaks at a news conference in central London, on July 4, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Nigel Farage devoted his career to campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union, a goal that once seemed impossible but which he helped achieve with an unashamedly populist message.

Farage resigned as leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) on Monday (July 4), saying the seismic vote to leave the 28-member bloc on June 23 "means that my political ambition has been achieved".

The 52-year-old is a political outsider who repeatedly failed to win election to the British parliament, but his role in securing Brexit has secured his place in history.

It was partly to counter the electoral threat of UKIP that Prime Minister David Cameron called the vote in 2013, and Farage played a high-profile role in the campaign - despite being excluded from the official "Leave" group.

Farage - a member of the European Parliament since 1999 - led the Brexit agenda with a relentless focus on ending mass migration from within the EU, and by urging the public to give the "political elites" a bloody nose.


The former commodities trader cultivated the image of a man of the people, often being photographed with a beer in his hand, and his message to "take back control" resonated with many older, white, blue collar voters.

He toured Britain relentlessly during the referendum campaign, arriving at each location on a battle bus that blasted out the theme to wartime film "The Great Escape".

But he was frequently accused of taking his populist message too far, notably with a poster showing a queue of brown-skinned migrants under the headline "Breaking Point", which was condemned by other "Leave" campaigners.

He also caused controversy by suggesting women in Britain may be at risk of mass sex attacks by migrants. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said he was "giving legitimisation to racism".

Ultimately, however, Farage triumphed - and the joy at winning was apparent when he returned to the European Parliament after the Brexit vote.

"When I came here 17 years ago and I said I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain to leave the EU, you all laughed at me. But you are not laughing now," he said.

In his 10 years as leader, Farage has almost single-handedly made UKIP a major force in British politics, even though it only has one MP.

Cameron once dismissed it as a party of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists", but in the last general election it won almost 13 per cent of the vote.

Farage was born in 1964 to an affluent family in Kent, southeast England. His father was a stockbroker and an alcoholic and his parents divorced when he was five.

He was educated at one of England's top private schools, Dulwich College in London, where he says his headmaster saw him as "bloody-minded and difficult".

Rather than attending university, he followed his father into the City of London, where he became a commodities trader.

Farage has four children - two boys by his first wife and two girls with his German second wife Kirsten.

Having supported the Conservatives since his school days, he joined UKIP in 1993 as a founder member and was elected to the European Parliament in 1999, aged 35.

Farage became UKIP's leader in 2006 before standing down in 2009 and then being re-elected the following year, when the party's ascent really began.

He has repeatedly failed to win election to Britain's House of Commons, but has survived a string of personal misfortunes - a serious car accident and testicular cancer as well as a plane crash.

Farage is quitting UKIP but indicated he would remain an MEP, saying he would be watching the negotiation of Britain's exit from Brussels "like a hawk".

He offered his services to "other independence movements" across the continent, saying he was "certain that you haven't seen the last country that wants to leave the EU."