Otto English delves into how the Brexit Party leader is keeping himself relevant now that we have taken back control and his American dreams have not come to fruition.
In his heart, I wonder whether Nigel Farage ever really wanted it this way. Sure, he professed a repeated desire for the UK to leave the EU and made a name as the key figure in that battle. But, once it was over, what was the point of him?
Since the UK technically left the European Union on 31 January, Farage has increasingly seemed like a Betamax videotape in a world of streaming.
In recent weeks, as the lockdown has dragged on, he has tried, with growing desperation, to look relevant. Having spent decades insisting that Brexit would give us back ‘control of our borders’ and prevent all those nasty illegal immigrants coming here, Farage rather undermined his case by twice journeying to Dover to point at the sea and complain about illegal immigrants coming here, despite Brexit.
His day trips to the sea did not go unnoticed and he was visited by the Kent Police, much to his chagrin. The Brexit Party leader clearly believes that his fame inures him from the strictures that apply to the rest of us. Don’t they know who he is?
Farage is less a politician and more a political celebrity. Like some minor member of the Kardashians, his significance starts and ends with his media profile. The longer he is out of the spotlight, the more that relevance wilts. And so, with growing unease, he has posted videos of himself hitting tin pans during the Thursday evening Clap for Carers, wearing revealing shorts or sporting a preposterous Union Jack face mask while striking a Ninja pose. At each desperate turn he has simply looked more ridiculous and inconsequential.
It was not always thus.
‘Taking on the Establishment’
For 20 years, Nigel Farage fruitfully carved out a role for himself as the nation’s best-known political heckler. Like some portly fan shouting at the TV during an England match in a crowded pub, he successfully gave the impression of knowing more than the players on the field.
The ref was blind. The team were a bunch of muppets. The championship was all a big gravy train. England didn’t stand a chance as long as it was up against Germany and Belgium. We needed to take back control of the pitch, return to the old kit, stop allowing foreigners into the stadium and play more matches against Pitcairn Island instead.
It was frankly all a lot of b*llocks, but it was lucrative b*llocks. And – incredibly – the more noise he made, the more everyone started to listen to him. In time, his nonsense went mainstream and eventually his professed desires came true. In 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU and, four years later, it actually did.
One would think that would be great news for Farage – the summit of a life’s struggle. But, actually, it is potentially a disaster for him both professionally and financially.
Farage has long made much of the fact that he turned his back on a City career, to save Britain from the evils of tariff-free trade, but if the Financial Times is to be believed, his time in the Square Mile was “modest“. Had he remained there, he might have made a small pile before eventually retiring to a life of golf, spaniels and mustard-coloured trousers. Instead, he went into politics – and there’s little doubt that it benefitted him.
By any standard, the money he made as leader of UKIP and later the Brexit Party was very good indeed and, despite much publicised helping hands from the likes of Arron Banks, a good proportion of it came from his media work.
By July 2019, in addition to his monthly MEP wage of €8,758 (£7,734) the Brexit Party leader was raking in an additional €30,000 (£26,493) – at least – a month in media appearances as sole director of Thorn In My Side Ltd. That’s a net annual salary of €465,096 (£410,000), making him one of the best-paid politicians in the UK and the sixth-highest earner at the EU Parliament – equal, in fact, to his fellow Brexit Party chairman and MEP Richard Tice.
Brexit was always sold as a movement of the ‘people’ that was taking on the ‘establishment’, but – in reality – Brexit Party MEPs were collectively the highest earners in Brussels. Of the seven top-earning MEPs of all parties from across Europe, five were members of the Brexit Party. Ben Habib, one of its two London representatives, topped the earnings of all European politicians with an additional salary of €960,000 (£847,486). Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making money – but the notion that a bunch of privately-educated millionaires were taking on the elites was always a bit of a stretch.
Still Open for Business
On leaving office in January, Farage was eligible – like all long-serving MEPs – for a £152,992 golden goodbye and made much of claiming that he wouldn’t take it.
He remains in line to receive his EU parliamentary pension worth £73,000 (70% of his MEP salary) for life once he turns 63 (in 2027) and an additional taxpayer-funded £42,372 a year on top from the now suspended second pension scheme.
While this is a nice little nest egg, the real money lies in his celebrity. And, to that end, he has to remain relevant.
It was long-rumoured that Farage hoped to make it big in America, possibly as a Fox News host or even working for is pal Donald Trump, but it was not to be. Farage might have been name-checked by the US President and been a guest at the Conservative Political Action Conference, but that hasn’t transformed his opportunities stateside. Now Brexit is done, he is a man of little discernible talent without a cause. Howard without Take That.
Much the same is true of the party he led. Like its leader and majority shareholder, The Brexit Party Ltd remains an ongoing entity, notwithstanding its fading relevance.
Despite being the fourth best-funded party in the UK, the party secured just 2% of the national vote in the 2019 General Election. Following that disastrous performance, the party leadership sacked its staff in December and operations have been wound down since. But, despite having gone the way of the dodo, the Brexit Party is still taking money and allowing people to sign up as a registered supporter. For a monthly fee of £100, we can even join the Brexit Club.
It might not have ever done well at the ballot box, but Farage’s party was always very good at making money.
Estimating how much money the Brexit Party has sitting in the bank is almost impossible since many of the Paypal donations made to it fell below the threshold for declarations. We do know that it received around £11 million in total donations last year, including £6.4 million from one man – Christopher Harborne – who, according to The Times, “features in the Panama Papers as an intermediary of companies linked offshore accounts”. But that might be just the tip of the iceberg.
From February 2019 onward, at least 115,000 people signed up as ‘registered supporters’, paying £25 each for the privilege. That alone would have added £2,875,000 to the coffers. As with many political parties, this is an annual recurring payment that has rolled into another year for the very many who haven’t cancelled their direct debits. Add in the many thousands of donations to the party under the £500 threshold that needs to be declared, and the vast sum of money given as a ‘handling fee’ by those seeking to become prospective parliamentary candidates, and the amounts start to add up.
Political parties are perfectly entitled to raise funds and there is no suggestion that anything illegal has happened but, given that the party is effectively dormant, it does rather beg the question as to why it is still taking donations and signing up supporters and what all that money is for.
Farage claimed at one point that he was going to set up a new Reform Party, but it hasn’t materialised. Perhaps the Dear Leader is keeping his powder dry and waiting to manifest a return to the frontline of politics. Mothballing the Brexit Party is one way to do this – and saving the money for a big comeback could in those terms make sense.
Whether, in a post-Coronavirus world, even his most die-hard supporters will think he or his jaded party are still relevant remains to be seen. In the meantime, if you did sign up to the Brexit Party last year, it might be worth checking those direct debits.
And if you should bump into Farage on the White Cliffs of Dover, do ask him what he intends to do with all that cash and let me know.