Brexit: “I don’t just want Britain out of the European Union, I want Europe out of the European Union”, Nigel Farage, member of the European Parliament and the head of the UK Independence Party, told members of the British chamber here in Luxembourg this week.
Photo: Steve Eastwood
He’s not anti-European, he’s just anti-EU; he likes the European Commission president personally, he just doesn’t agree with him; and he’s not against all migration, he just wants it to be managed by sovereign countries. And he hopes an upcoming British referendum marks the beginning of the end for the European project. Those were the messages delivered by Nigel Farage, British MEP, during his second ever speech in the Grand Duchy, addressing the British Chamber of Commerce for Luxembourg on Monday.
“Nobody in Europe has ever given their consent” for their countries to join the EU and for sovereignty “to be handed to a group of unelected old men in Brussels who have absolute power”, he told the chamber. “Even here in Luxembourg 44% of the population said no to the European constitution” in the national referendum held in July 2005.
Despite that, “I am not anti-European; I’m pro-European!” said Farage, whose Eurosceptic UK Independence Party won 27% of the British popular vote in the 2014 European Parliament elections. “I’m married to a girl who comes Hamburg, my kids have got dual nationality, my kids are bilingual,” he said. “And I love Europe.” Because of its rich diversity, “we should ‘viva la difference’.”
Referring to Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission and former prime minister of Luxembourg, and who is often the target of UKIP criticism, Farage stated: “I have a little confession to make and this might surprise some of you. I rather like him as a person, I really do”, particularly his sense of humour.
He then said: “I do understand why people like Juncker have believed in the European project for all these years”, a philosophy that developed in the aftermath of the second world war. “It was a really horrid thing when a British tabloid newspaper said Mr. Juncker’s father had been a Nazi” in an article published during the runup to Juncker’s commission appointment. In fact Juncker’s father had been forcibly conscripted, the MEP pointed out.
Unravelling of Europe?
Farage reckoned that “the implications of a UK withdrawal are actually greater for the European Union than they are for the United Kingdom. And I say that because once we have asserted our right to govern our own lives, I think there will be many other European countries that follow the same route.”
This is a good thing in Farage’s view. “Having seen the French and the Dutch vote no ten years to [the proposed European] constitution and having the political elites just deliberately ignore them”, by introducing the Lisbon Treaty, he decided the EU project needed to go. “I don’t just want Britain out of the European Union, I want Europe out of the European Union”.
“For me as well, Britain leaving the European Union would not be the end of the world, neither for Britain, nor for the EU,” said Frank Engel, Luxembourg CSV MEP, who introduced Farage’s speech and moderated the audience Q&A. “It is now time for the Brits to decide.”
Free trade, immigration
One attendee asked if Britain would be able to recover from being outside the transatlantic free trade accord currently being negotiated between the EU and US. Farage replied that he plans to vote against the accord when it comes up in the European Parliament. “I’m not opposed to a trade deal with America; I am opposed to this trade deal with America.”
Rana Hein-Hartmann, also in the audience, asked about the contribution that immigrants make to the country. Farage answered: “Anybody coming to Britain earning less than £28,000 a year is bringing nothing; they’re actually a cost to the country” due to spending on social services and schools. He proposed introducing “an Australian style points system [where] you bring in people who are benefit to the country, not a drain on public services.”