President Trump’s bromance with Farage and the media’s obsession with the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) is based on a misplaced belief that Farage has power and influence, said Douglas Carswell, who resigned from UKIP Saturday. His departure leaves Farage’s party with no representation in the British Parliament. Farage was not responsible for Britain’s exit from the European Union, Carswell claims, and can’t be a constructive part of the U.S.-U.K. relationship going forward.
“The more fruitful relationship between the U.S. president and a Brit will be between Trump and Theresa May,” Carswell told me in an interview Monday. “I’m not sure that Nigel and Mr. Trump will have a great deal more to discuss. There’s only so many selfies you can take.”
Carswell said that the American and British media have falsely propped up Farage as a leader of the Brexit movement. But, he said, Farage and UKIP not only have little popular support in Britain, but they also have no ability to deliver to Trump anything he may want from London related to trade, national security or anything else.
“Farage had nothing to do with the official referendum campaign at all. The media made him the go-to guy for the cameras. That’s why people have attributed an importance to him that doesn’t exist. That’s not a criticism, it’s a fact,” said Carswell. “There’s a saying we have in England that you should talk to the organ grinder, not the monkey.”
There’s no love lost between Farage and Carswell, who were aligned on policy during the Brexit campaign but have been battling publicly ever since. Farage was the leader of the UKIP party until November. Carswell left the Conservative Party and joined UKIP in 2014, but announced his departure to become an independent on his blog March 25.
Farage and UKIP did not respond to requests for comment. But in a March 26 op-ed, Farage wrote that he has been trying to get Carswell to leave UKIP since 2015 and is happy Carswell is leaving the party. Their feud has caused a civil war inside UKIP and raised questions about the party’s viability following the British referendum.
Trump has nurtured a personal friendship with Farage. Farage appeared with Trump on the campaign trail and addressed the crowds at his rallies. Farage used Brexit an example to Trump supporters of how a nationalist, populist movement can succeed.
“We did it. We made June the 23rd our independence day when we smashed the establishment,” Farage said a Trump rally in August in Mississippi. “We reached those people who have been let down by modern, global corporatism,” he added.
Farage has been meeting with White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon since 2012, according to the New Yorker, and the London bureau chief of Breitbart News worked as Farage’s chief of staff for almost a year.
Only days after the election, Trump met Farage at Trump Tower. Later in November, Trump tweeted that Farage should be appointed British ambassador to the United States, a suggestion the British government quickly rejected. Farage has kept in touch with Trump and joined him for dinner at the Trump hotel in Washington last month.
The Trump White House’s relationship with May has been noticeably cooler. In his first post-election conversation with her, Trump issued an undiplomatic invitation: “If you travel to the U.S., you should let me know.” May later became the first foreign leader to visit the Trump White House in late January.
Last week at the Brussels Forum, an international policy conference, Carswell said that despite what Trump and Farage claim, Brexit and the Trump phenomenon are not the same.
“Brexit is very often bracketed with the election of Donald Trump or the rise of [Dutch politician Geert] Wilders. What I wanted to suggest to you today is that the decision of Britain to leave the European Union is the antithesis of all of that,” Carswell said. “Brexit is a safety valve. Donald Trump and Wilders is what you end up with if you fail to recalibrate the priorities of those who make public policy with the public.”
His new book, “Rebel: How to Overthrow the Emerging Oligarchy,” is a defense of the liberal world order from radical populists and oligarchs who seek to take advantage of the dysfunction in Western democracies to pursue a xenophobic, nativist agenda. Despite the prevailing media narrative, Brexit is actually a fight against those instincts, Carswell said.
“In order for Euroskepticism to come onto the majority, we had to be positive, optimistic, we had to talk about Britain being a global country. It was actually embracing globalization,” he said.
There are plenty of senior Trump administration officials who share this view, but Trump and Bannon do not seem to be among them. Whether Farage and those similar to him continue to enjoy access and influence will be a clear indicator of whether the Trump team will side with European governments or the populists who are trying to overthrow them.