As Nigel Farage packed a few belongings into a box at his office in the European Union’s parliament in Brussels on Tuesday, he reflected that he will miss the very institution on which – as its bluntest critic – he built his political career.
“I’ll miss some of the fun, some of the theatre,” the Brexit Party leader said in an interview. “I’ll miss being the pantomime villain, which I’ve been many times. This has been a massive chapter of my life.”
What Farage doesn’t regret, though, is spearheading a campaign that led to Britain’s exit from the EU, which will happen quietly at midnight in Brussels on Friday but with great fanfare in London’s Parliament Square at a party he promised would bring together more than 30 000 people.
Farage and 72 other Britons will attend their last plenary session of the 751-seat European Parliament this week. On Friday morning, a group of Brexit Party lawmakers will march out of the modernist assembly building with a Union Jack to mark the end of Britain’s 47 years as a member of the EU.
Britain’s vote to leave the EU in 2016 was a triumph for Farage, a former commodities trader who become an abrasive anti-immigration politician, tapping into a deep well of popular anger in Britain that rivals failed to understand.
A colourful character who is often pictured holding a pint of beer, 55-year-old Farage’s acerbic euroscepticism was the bane of committed Europeans in Brussels. He recalled with a laugh on Tuesday how once he told then-European Council President Herman Van Rompuy to his face that he had “the charisma of a damp rag” and the “appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”.
He said that, although he has sought to disrupt the EU from within over the past two decades, the European Parliament would be a duller place without him and lawmakers from the 27 other EU countries may miss the publicity he brought for their assembly.
Farage also boasted that his Brexit Party had helped Boris Johnson become Britain’s prime minister last year, and since then the Conservative Party leader had adopted policies and rhetoric that he had used for 25 years.
After Friday, Britain will enter an 11-month transition period during which it faces tough negotiations with the EU on everything from trade regulations to fishing rights to establish a future relationship. “In this negotiation, we’ve got a much stronger hand than they have,” he said. “We’ve got Germany petrified of us becoming a competitor on their doorstep.”
Farage said that however the haggling between London and Brussels turns out, there will be no going back on Brexit, a course of action that for Britain’s place in the world marked the biggest change since Henry VIII left the Church of Rome 500 years ago. “And I say that not even tongue in cheek,” he added.