UK's Farage tries to harness COVID lockdown anger to take on PM Johnson

Guy Faulconbridge
·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: British Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage speaks during a visit at Dover harbour, in Dover
FILE PHOTO: British Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage speaks during a visit at Dover harbour, in Dover

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) - Nigel Farage, the British politician who helped force a Brexit referendum and successfully campaigned to leave the European Union, will fight Prime Minister Boris Johnson's COVID-19 lockdown by recasting his small Brexit Party as Reform UK.

Cast by his supporters as the godfather of Brexit, Farage said Johnson had terrified the United Kingdom into submission over COVID-19 and squandered vast amounts of taxpayers' money while holding out hopes of a "miraculous" vaccine.

"What we've seen in this pandemic I think is a total failure of leadership at almost every level," Brexit Party leader Farage told Talk Radio from Pennsylvania.

"What about the millions of people out there running their own businesses? This second lockdown is the death knell economically for many of those people," Farage said.

Johnson on Saturday ordered England back into a national lockdown from Thursday morning after the United Kingdom passed the milestone of one million COVID-19 cases and a second wave of infections threatened to overwhelm the health service.

The United Kingdom, which has the biggest official death toll in Europe from COVID-19, is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day and scientists have warned the "worst case" scenario of 80,000 dead could be exceeded.

Farage, a former commodities trader, has transformed British politics over the past decade by poaching Conservative voters to force a succession of prime ministers toward ever tougher positions on Europe.

TRUMP ALLY

Farage, whom U.S. President Donald Trump calls a friend, has spoken alongside the president in the election campaign.

"You can, if you want to, look at the opinion polls, look at the betting markets, look at the lead editorials of the global press and they will all tell you that its a slam dunk for Joe Biden. I do not believe it," Farage said.

"I genuinely think he's going to win tomorrow," Farage said of Trump.

He said lockdowns don't work.

Instead, Farage proposed targeting those most a risk, like the sick and the elderly, but said ordinary people should not be criminalised for trying to live normal lives such as meeting family for Christmas.

"The rest of the population should, with good hygiene measures and a dose of common sense, get on with life. This way we build immunity in the population," he said.

The perceived electoral threat to the Conservatives from the United Kingdom Independence Party which Farage formerly led was one of the main reasons then-prime minister David Cameron decided in 2013 to promise the Brexit referendum.

Shunned by the British political establishment, Farage, backed by Eurosceptic financiers, helped sell Brexit to millions of voters in England and Wales who felt ignored by the mainstream Conservative and Labour parties.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge in London; Additional reporting by Rebekah Mathew in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Cooney, Catherine Evans and Nick Macfie)