At the very moment that David Cameron met with the 27 remaining leaders of the European Union on the fourth floor of the European Parliament in Brussels, Nigel Farage, a key proponent of the Brexit campaign, took coffee and a pint just two floors below in the bar of the same building.
In and of itself this act was harmless. Perhaps he was simply taking a moment of quiet from the carnage around him. The FTSE and European markets in general were in freefall; sterling had lost near 10 percent of its value against the dollar in a single day. People, Europeans they called themselves, were marching on the British Parliament and had painted themselves blue. Scotland was to secede from Great Britain, and the spectre of violent discontent was now a newly awakened ogre that might re-emerge from its grave in Northern Ireland. Ultra-right wing leaders in Holland, Norway and France were already sprouting proposed referendums to further break up the European project.
Nevertheless, Nigel Farage, having that same morning been regaling forth in Parliament at his slothful peers (none of you have done a ‘proper job’ in your lives, he told them), took refreshments in the very place he most loathed. Odd, one might say, cynical perhaps. He had made quite a speech. In the context of his seventeen years within the European Parliament, however, his speech was no more than an ordinary day’s work. It was vitriolic, patronising, and childishly insulting, nothing out of the ordinary.
Jean-Claude Juncker, Head of the European Parliament, could take it no longer. With some impatience, and with typical brevity, he posed a simple question. “Why are you here?” he actually asked. Twice. Farage then left the hallowed hall in which Europe had been shaped. He went straight to the in-house restaurant, whilst Cameron was left to pick up the pieces. Fortuitously, the CNN anchor Richard Quest was in the building at the time. Quest has a unique style. He has a piercing voice and demeanour and it can be difficult to distinguish as to whether he is asking or telling. In this case he was telling. He was seething.
“You really hate these people,” he insisted Farage agree. “How can you say that you are anti-establishment, that you are against big business, lobbyists, all of it, when you have been part of it for seventeen years?” “I am the only one with business experience,” Farage argued.
“But you come from big business,” Quest retorted. “You were a commodities trader.”
“We are free of Europe,” Farage bleated. “They don’t like me.”
On the 4th of July 2016, Nigel Farage announced his resignation from UKIP, citing stress and having “done his bit”. That he “wants his life back”. Commentators have generally seemed pleased he is gone. At least those from Britain who will have the unenviable job of negotiating trade deals with Europe will not include the toxic Farage. But his resignation was a surprise.
Why spend seventeen years insulting the very institution you live and work in? Why position your person in front of a poster of Syrian refugees which reads not dissimilarly to early-1930s anti-Semitic propaganda? Why, after all of the fighting and the booing, after winning precisely what you wanted, why then resign?
The answer is twofold. First, professional heckling is not a proper job. It has dawned on Farage that the fight is over and that he has won. The prospect of ‘proper’ work can seem overwhelming.
The second reason is equally simple. It reveals itself to Farage only in that very moment he takes solace in the bar whilst the adults meet upstairs. What am I going to do now? He is asking himself. Where shall I have my pint? It was fun to be the outsider inside the private club. It was like a bad marriage, but it was a marriage. There was a kind of symbiotic dependency. But now he is divorced. And he is alone.