The UK’s tumultuous vote to leave the EU saw another party leader resign on Monday (4th July), as UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage announced he was stepping down, declaring “my political ambition has been achieved.”
Farage – although only having one MP in the Westminster parliament – was a leading, and highly controversial figurehead for the Leave campaign, which won by 52-48% in the 23 June referendum.
Farage’s comments on immigration, especially a poster showing thousands of refugees with the slogan “Breaking Point” have brushed with racism, and put him at odds with the official Leave campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
By quitting – although he will stay on as one of UKIP’s 24 MEPs in the EFDD (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy) group – he joins David Cameron, who announced his resignation as prime minister on the morning of the result.
Boris Johnson, London’s ex-mayor, also quit the race to be the next Conservative leader and prime minister last week, after criticism of his abilities by his former running mate, Gove.
Meanwhile, the official opposition Labour party is in chaos, with most of leader Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet having quit, and the party chief facing an imminent challenge after a vote of no confidence.
Farage announced his decision at a London press conference – almost exactly a year after he previously quit, following the 2015 general election where he failed to win a seat – then famously ‘unresigned.’
“I have decided to stand aside as leader of UKIP,” the 52-year old said. “The victory for the ‘Leave’ side in the referendum means that my political ambition has been achieved.”
But he warned against ‘backsliding’ from the current Conservative government – now conducting a leadership campaign and with no clear signal as to when it would trigger Article 50, legally confirming the UK exit from the EU, and beginning two years of tortuous negotiations.
Farage said he would watch Britain’s renegotiation process with the EU “like a hawk” as he continued to serve as an MEP in Brussels.
“If there is too much backsliding… then UKIP’s best days may be yet to come,” he added.
UKIP’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, tweeted a happy emoji in response to the announcement.
— Douglas Carswell MP (@DouglasCarswell) July 4, 2016
The pair have often clashed – with Carswell, who defected from the Tories – offering a more intellectual, free-market rationale for leaving the EU, whilst Farage concentrated almost exclusively on immigration.
With Gove trailing in the running to be next Conservative leader, Johnson quitting the race before it began, and now Farage gone as UKIP leader, the three biggest faces of the Leave campaign have all now been criticised for abandoning the project in the wake of their victory – whilst the UK faces years, if not decades, of economic uncertainty, against a backdrop of a 500% increase in reported race crimes.
Farage said whoever was next chosen to lead the country should be a “Brexit prime minister” – a reference to front-runner Theresa May, who campaigned for a Remain vote.
Ominously, Farage also offered his services to “other independence movements springing up in other parts of the European Union”.
May, the current home secretary, on Sunday (3 July) said that if she won, she would push for a new trade deal with the EU that limits immigration.
“The Brexit vote gave us a very clear message that we couldn’t allow free movement (of people) to continue as it had,” May told ITV.
But one of her supporters, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, said there would be a trade-off between accessing the EU single market and allowing free movement of people.
“Those who believe there is no need for such a trade-off have misunderstood something fundamental about the politics of the European Union,” he wrote in The Telegraph on Monday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has insisted any free trade deal would have to include freedom of movement.
Meanwhile, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced on Monday he would slash corporate taxes in response to the Leave vote, seemingly triggering a tax war with the remaining 27 members, especially Ireland.
Osborne said he would cut Britain’s levy on company profits to under 15%.
The new target, which has no timetable, would give Britain the lowest rates of any major economy, putting it closer to the 12.5% rate in neighbouring EU member Ireland.
“We must focus on the horizon and the journey ahead and make the most of the hand we’ve been dealt,” Osborne, who had campaigned with Cameron for Britain to stay in EU, told the FT.
A new Conservative prime minister – elected only by Tory party members – will be announced on 9 September.
May has insisted there should be “no timescale” for the exit, while her rival, Andrea Leadsom has pushed for the process to begin quickly.
Gove has mentioned ‘the next calendar year’ for the legal notification.
The process faces a legal challenge from law firm Mishcon de Reya, which on Sunday said it would argue the government needs the backing of parliament to act.
“The outcome of the referendum itself is not legally binding,” said Kasra Nouroozi, a partner in the firm.