James Heale James Heale

Farage speaks of ‘six-year plan’ as he launches campaign

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The Royal Cinque Ports Yachts Club was an appropriate place for Nigel Farage to make his first big speech of the election campaign today. Set on the Dover seafront, it offered the perfect setting for Farage – Reform’s honorary president and spiritual figurehead – to lambast the Tory record on small boats. The Conservatives, he said, had betrayed their 2019 voters by allowing an ‘invasion’ of migrants: ‘If 3,800 boats and 125,000 people isn’t a sort of slow motion D-Day in reverse, I don’t know what is.’ It was the kind of stump speech that we have seen honed in endless GB News monologues, with the familiar cast of villains: Strasbourg jurists, French naval officers, continental people-smugglers and above all, the spineless British political class. ‘We have a liberal establishment who are terrified of debate’ claimed Farage, challenging Sunak to a head-to-head on immigration: ‘He wants six debates with Keir Starmer but none with me!’

‘In this election, the leaders are making long speeches and taking few questions’ he told me beforehand: ‘I’m going to be make a short speech and taking lots of questions.’ It was meat and drink to the assembled press pack, weary after six days of endless platitudes and stage-managed press conferences in what Farage called the ‘dullest start’ to an election campaign he could recall. Questions came thick and fast to the former MEP, who handled them with a mix of quick wits and controlled exasperation. The Express asked whether Reform would not merely allow even more mass migration under Labour? ‘How much worse could it be?’ Farage cried in reply. Why would he get a better deal with Emmanuel Macron, questioned the Telegraph? ‘One thing the French will respect is firmness – and I don’t think we’ve had very much of that.’ Sky enquired why he thinks some Muslims don’t share ‘British values.’ ‘Well you’re here’, he told the female journalist. ‘I doubt you’d be welcome at that Angela Rayner meeting.’ There was plenty of teasing too about his future plans in light of America’s presidential election. ‘I wouldn’t become an official Trump adviser if he was elected’ he said with a smile. ‘Unofficially? Look, he’s a friend of mine.’ 

Nigel ain’t going anywhere

Perhaps Farage’s most intriguing comments though were not about this election but rather what comes next. He repeatedly referred to Reform’s six-year plan, aimed at the next election in 2029. ‘This is not about a quick hit in a few weeks’ time,’ he said. ‘This is all about building a base from which we go on and launch a serious assault’. It was a marked contrast with Richard Tice’s promise last Friday that ‘Reform will win seats’ in July – a line that Farage notably did not repeat himself. ‘How can you tell? It’s all about momentum, can the Reform campaign get momentum? If it does then who knows?’ was all he would say when asked to give a prediction about whether the party would win seats or not. 

Speaking in the bar afterwards, I asked him about reports that he had facilitated a meeting between Trump’s team and David Lammy. Farage smiled and demurred to shoot them down. ‘Oh I can’t remember that,’ was all he would say. As his entourage sipped pints around him, Farage told me that he would spend the bulk of the campaign here but will make at least one trip to America. ‘I’ve got one event that I can’t really get out of. There’s one event in Detroit where I said I will go and I will go.’

Reform may struggle to win seats but if today’s event is anything to go by, they certainly won’t have difficulty getting coverage. Farage is due to give his next big speech on Thursday on the subject of legal migration – a blow to Tory strategists who hoped that he would remain a peripheral figure in this campaign. One thing is clear: with interventions planned on the economy, tax and energy, Nigel ain’t going anywhere.