On Thursday, Brits turned out in their millions to vote on whether or not to begin a conscious uncoupling with the European Union, effectively becoming an independent country with closed borders to all. The result was seen as a shock and, to most young voters, a real shame. There’s plenty to read elsewhere on what Brexit will mean for the U.K., its surrounding countries, and the world going forward, so instead let’s look at one of the main men who made it happen: Nigel Farage, Brexit’s sneering, flag-waving, boat-steering, plane crashing champion.
Yeah, he once crashed a plane.
Farage currently serves as a founder and the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, or UKIP. British politics leave room for more than just two parties, which allows fringe players (like the Green party) to get more of a say during elections, and even in Parliament. In addition to the Labour Party and the Conservatives, there are 10 parties who have seats in Parliament (think Congress but bitchier). UKIP is one of them, and is built mainly on a foundation of nationalism.
Farage himself was a member of the Conservatives at first, before breaking off and forming UKIP. His message is simple: control immigration and bring back jobs and prosperity to the U.K. (sound a little familiar?). His party’s logo is even a goddamn British Pound sign which is fittingly crass and on-the-nose.
It should be noted that, while prominent, UKIP, nor Farage, have any real power. UKIP hold just one seat in Parliament, and Farage crashed and burned during his 2014 campaign to become prime minister. In one famous radio interview during that period, he claimed he’d be nervous if a group of Romanians moved in next door to him. When asked if he would feel differently if a group of Germans moved in instead, he paused, and with all the power of the human brain, said “you know the difference.”
Before Brexit, Farage has been kind of a novelty in British politics, making a headline every now and again with some insane take on the London Underground (he doesn’t like when people speak foreign languages on it) or women in the workplace (who are “worth less” to their clients once they have children) or women’s boobs (they can breastfeed in public, but preferably a corner—cheers, Nige!). After his dismal showing in the election, the public seemed pretty content to sit back and allow him all the gaffes in the world. He wasn’t about to run the country. He wasn’t going to cause any real problems.
Farage, while not officially a member of the Brexit campaign, grasped the opportunity with both hands and thrust himself into the public eye once again, like in the last 10 minutes of a Power Rangers episode where the villain uses magic to become a giant. The “Leave” campaign was perfectly suited for him: drowning the public in fear and bitterness and worrying about the outcome later. At one point, they ran ads claiming that post-EU it would be possible to invest $500 million a week into the National Health Service, which would be tight if it weren’t an outright lie.
In one of the more lighthearted and bizarre moments of the Brexit campaign, Farage captained a “Leave” boat down the River Thames with dozens of supporters. They cheered and waved banners and spewed idiocy out of bullhorns. Then, suddenly, they were intercepted by a “Remain” boat, being helmed by Bob Geldof. Who else? He’d seen the commotion and decided to fight boat with boat, right in the middle of the nation’s capital. It was…weird, but impromptu naval battles with a Boomtown Rat don’t really raise eyebrows when it comes to Farage. That kind of shit is, like, his thing.
Before the votes were cast on Thursday, it seemed Farage would go down in history as a strange little malcontent. A weird little dude rowing against the tide of progression. An Old Man Yelling At Cloud. But now he’s made a real difference to world politics. He’s going to be worse, and more prominent than ever. In his “victory” speech on Friday, he hailed the “Leave” campaign as a success “without a single bullet being fired,” a particularly nasty, vile aside that evoked, and ignored, Jo Cox’s murder. Still, don’t hold your breath for Farage to fact check.
Brexit’s victory has propelled Farage once again to the very front of Britain’s headlines, and that’s what he needs to influence people, not any actual political position. Like Mario jumping on a mushroom, he’s been given a platform to be larger and louder than ever. He likes to play on the fringes, and that’s what the Conservatives like, too: Farage can do the damage, and they can shake their heads, shrug their shoulders, and reap the rewards. He’s a loose cannon. He’s, like, 15 loose cannons.
Nigel Farage will never be a world leader, he’ll never hold any official power, but his dark magic brand of politics is working anyway. How else can you explain him making this dude the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom?
Tom Philip is a Scottish writer based in Brooklyn, New York. He is a contributor at ClickHole and has written for GQ and The New Yorker, among many others.