Though the results weren’t final on Friday morning, Nigel Farage was jubilant.
“We have done it,” the leader of the euroskeptic UK Independence Party, or UKIP, told his cheering supporters. The 23rd of June, he said, will go down in history as Great Britain’s “Independence Day.”
We won “without a single bullet being fired,” he called to the crowd.
The 52-year-old is close to achieving his goal of seeing Great Britain leave the European Union, for which he has campaigned for decades. His message: Great Britain must take control of its own fate, stop billions of pounds from being transferred to Brussels and significantly reduce the number of immigrants.
But observers are now skeptical about whether Mr. Farage will be able to keep his promises.
Once a commodity broker in London City, he was originally a member of the conservative Tory party. But he left the party in protest over the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and founded UKIP with like-minded activists in 1993.
In 2006, Conservative leader David Cameron called the party a “sort of a bunch of … fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists mostly.” But since then, UKIP has pressured the major British parties as they have gained popularity.
Mr. Farage has a particular talent for taking things to the extreme with half-truths and loud slogans.
Then last spring, UKIP became the third-largest party with 12.6 percent of the votes, though they gained just a single seat in the lower house. Mr. Farage, for his part, didn’t even win in his own constituency, which nearly saw him give up leadership of his own party. He later told a newspaper that having spent 20 years of his life fighting for an E.U. referendum, he wasn’t ready to give up after all.
Some party members saw things differently, however, worrying that Mr. Farage wasn’t the right man to ultimately motivate the majority of British to leave the E.U. For that reason, last year Douglas Carswell, who holds a seat for UKIP in the lower house, made a case for a new leader. Mr. Carswell wanted the UKIP Brexit campaign to focus more strongly on economic issues, while Mr. Farage wanted to focus on immigration.
The latter maintained that strategy, taking it considerably further than some might have expected. Mr. Farage has a particular talent for taking things to the extreme with half-truths and loud slogans. But even some of his fellow campaigners felt that he went beyond the boundaries of good taste with one particular poster.
A few days before the referendum, he unveiled an anti-immigrant poster showing Syrian refugees at the Austrian border with the slogan, “Breaking Point.” The subhead added: “We must break free of the E.U. and take back control of our borders.”
But the scene had nothing to do with freedom of movement within the European Union, because few, if any, of those Syrians were heading to Great Britain anyway. As a result, a number of prominent fellow Brexit campaigners turned their backs on him.
But Mr. Farage refused to apologize for the poster. And he stuck to his anti-immigrant strategy; the results of the referendum proved him right.
Katharina Slodczyk is Handelsblatt’s London correspondent. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org