Britain's Trump? Farage surges on Brexit discontent

Dmitry ZAKS
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Nigel Farage is channelling Donald Trump's brand of angry populism to help turn British politics on its head

Nigel Farage is channelling Donald Trump's brand of angry populism to help turn British politics on its head (AFP Photo/Oli SCARFF )

London (AFP) - Polls show his Brexit Party easily winning next week's European Parliament polls and edging ahead of Theresa May's Conservatives in a UK general election.

Nigel Farage is channelling Donald Trump's brand of angry populism to help turn British politics on its head.

"You are in denial, the BBC is in denial, the Tory and Labour parties are in denial," the nationalist poster boy of the 2016 campaign to get Britain out of the European Union told the broadcaster in a feisty interview.

"I think you are all in for a bigger surprise than you can even imagine," he said of the May 23 elections.

The rise and rise of the 55-year-old former commodities trader is one of the most immediate and striking consequences of May's failure to lead Britain out of the European Union on time.

Britain was meant to have split away after 46 years on March 29.

May's inability to force her EU divorce deal through parliament has pushed that back until October 31.

Some think the date may have to be delayed further still -- giving EU supporters time to reverse Brexit.

All this has fuelled voter suspicions of politicians and turned Farage into a voice of the disaffected who has both May's government and Brussels on edge.

- 'More than a flash in the pan' -

A May 8-9 YouGov survey showed his three-month-old Brexit Party winning 34 percent of the UK vote in the European Parliament poll.

The opposition Labour Party was second with just 16 percent. May's Conservatives trailed in fifth with 10 percent after the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

Voting intentions in any general election that might result from the current political impasse make equally grim reading for May's team.

A poll taken for Saturday's edition of The Daily Telegraph showed the Brexit Party on 20 percent and the Conservatives on 19.

YouGov has the Conservatives coming first in the general election but losing nearly half their parliamentary seats.

The question now is whether the Brexit Party is a passing phenomenon or a new force that breaks Britain's existing political order.

"The Brexit Party has the potential to be much more than a flash in the pan," said UK national populist movement analyst and author Matthew Goodwin.

"The rise of the Brexit Party is deeply problematic for the Conservative Party because it is eating away at Conservative Party support, making a radical left Labour government much more likely."

- 'The enemy' -

The parallels between Farage and Trump are striking.

They doubt the science behind climate change and embrace gun rights. They both blame social ills on migrants and support strong borders.

Farage also appears to have taken a page out of the US president's playbook by portraying himself as the victim of a biased and out-of-touch media.

The BBC "now behave with outrageous bias," Farage told the PoliticsHome.com website a few hours after his spat with the venerable UK broadcaster.

"The BBC are now the enemy."

It was a familiar echo of Trump's "enemy of the people" refrain that has him and much of the US media exchanging daily blows.

"Farage certainly exhibits elements of Trumpism," the analyst Goodwin said.

May's government never expected to do well in a European vote.

But a potentially disastrous showing in a general election that could set Conservatives back many years has members of her party on edge.

"People mocking, denouncing or vilifying Nigel Farage are missing the point," junior Brexit minister James Cleverly, the deputy party leader, tweeted on Sunday.

"Rather than say 'people are wrong to vote for him & his party' we should ask “why are people voting for him & his party?'"

- 'Fighting the political class' -

Voters in southeast England have actually been re-electing Farage as their European Parliament representative since 1999.

He has used the time to make numerous enemies in Brussels -- perhaps none as vocal as the European Parliament's Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt.

The Belgian accused Farage on Sunday of having "one of the lowest attendance rates" in the chamber.

"He would rather sign in & go to the pub than fight for British interests in Europe," Verhofstadt tweeted.

"Sending him back would be insane!"

Farage did not respond to his Brussels nemesis.

But he did pin a clip of his exchange with the BBC to the top of his Twitter account.

"We are not just fighting the political class, but the BBC too," Farage wrote.