Richard North, 13/05/2019  

There was much ado yesterday about Mr Farage losing patience with Andrew Marr during his interview, but the histrionics have rather obscured the major thrust of the interview, and the incoherence of Farage's position.

In opening the dialogue, we saw Mr Farage claim that he had coined the phrase "no deal is better than a bad deal", and was using it every day for the last two weeks of the referendum campaign. But although he claimed that, Marr professed to some difficulty in finding any examples of him saying it. Farage's response was, "you'd better look closer" – not a very helpful comment. But I can't find any reference of Farage saying it either and I don't recall his saying it at the time.

In fact, the evidence points fairly conclusively to Mrs May being the first user of the phrase, and that was in January 2017 during her Lancaster House speech. Farage's prior claim is just another indication of the fantasy world he inhabits.

Nevertheless, he went on to tell Marr that the reason he did not advocate a no-deal during the referendum campaign was that it was "obvious" we could do a free trade deal. Monsieur Barnier and the others were talking about this, he said. "The problem is the Prime Minister never asked for it, so we finished up in the mess that we're in…".

And there, in a few short words, Farage illustrates his lack of grasp of the subject. He complains that Mrs May didn't ask for that deal. Instead, she chose to go for a "close and special partnership". Basically, says Farage, "right from the start, she was happy for us to be kept very close to the customs union, so where we are now, the only way the democratic will of the people can be delivered is to leave on a WTO deal".

But, as an indication of what Farage was actually saying after the referendum, Marr quoted comments he made in November 2015 on his show: "Iceland and Switzerland can get deals that suit them, we can do something far, far better than that. Norway chooses its own deal. We will choose our own deal".

Not quoted by Marr, though, Farage went on to say: "I want us to have a simple free trade agreement with the European Union not to be a member of a political club, not to be subject to the decision of its courts".

A few months later in the following year, on 21 February 2016, Farage was back on the Marr show, declaring that there was "one absolutely certainty if we vote to leave the European Union". That was that "we will be in charge of our own country. We will make our own laws. We will run our own ministerial departments". On trade, Iceland had negotiated their own free trade deals and, if Iceland could do it, he was "absolutely certain" that the world's 5th biggest economy could do it.

A few days later, Farage was interviewed by Channel 4 alongside Anna Soubry, following David Cameron's famous "renegotiation". And, as explained by the Guardian at the time, Farage said he would not want to be a member of the Single Market because he believed the UK should be a fully independent country.

There was no equivocation about this. Soubry, under the watchful eye of Jon Snow, put the direct question to Farage: "Do you want us to be a member of the Single Market?" He replied, "no". Rejecting the idea of joining Norway or Iceland, he agreed with Soubry that he wanted the UK to be "alone". What he wanted was "independence", the country to be "self-governing" and "making our own laws". If we leave, said Farage, "we'll be self-governing and responsible for our own future".

In March 2016, Farage's political group in Brussels, the EFDD, published a pamphlet bearing his name as its author, urging people to vote in the referendum. Paid for by the EU, it stopped short of spelling out his own Brexit plans, but it was pretty clear that he was not a fan of the Single Market.

On 12 June 2016, Farage was back on the Marr show talking of tariff-free areas, assuring his host that the German car industry needed our market very badly. Marr's suggestion that it was "unlikely" that the EU would do a "good deal" brought a response from Farage in these terms: "the benefit that we joined the EU for", he said - namely tariff-free access – "is now outweighed by our net membership fee alone". So "the worst case scenario economically is better than where we are today". That is about as close as he ever gets to the "no deal" schtick. 

Later that month, Farage was telling the European Parliament that Britain would be the European Union's "best friend" after it had struck a deal to allow for tariff-free trade. "Let's cut between us a sensible tariff-free deal and thereafter recognise that the United Kingdom will be your friend (...) We will be your best friends in the world", Farage said, adding: "If you were to cut off your noses to spite your faces and to reject any idea of a sensible trade deal the consequences would be far worse for you than it would be for us".

But, earlier that same month on Twitter - just before the referendum – Farage had been asserting: "I want what's best for Britain: controlling our own borders, making our own laws, running our own country".

When, on 28 June, Farage told Bloomberg that we should aim for a simple free trade agreement between the EU and the UK, it becomes pretty clear what Farage's stance was. Summed up, he wanted the UK to be self-governing, making its own laws, and working with the EU on the basis of a free trade agreement which gives us tariff-free trade.

Thus we got to the point yesterday where Marr directly challenged Farage. During the referendum "you were advocating one thing and now you're advocating something different. You're advocating a no deal Brexit", he said. And that is a fair point. Throughout the campaign and beyond, the one consistent thing we get from Farage is that he want a free trade agreement with the EU – something he is supremely confident we would get.

But now, his response to that is: "the only way we can deliver the democratic will of the people is to leave on WTO terms". He adds: "I'll tell you something. Once we do that the European Union will be banging our door down to have a sensible, tariff-free deal".

To this, Marr asks him to accept that "from the point of view of the referendum in 2016 there is no mandate for a no deal Brexit?" And this is Farage's response:
I'm sorry, I couldn’t disagree more. We voted to leave. We didn't vote for a deal. We voted to leave once with a referendum. The year after that both the Labour and Conservative parties promised us in their manifestos they would honour the result of the referendum and here we are, nearly three years on from that referendum, Brexit's not been delivered, and frankly, given this government and given this parliament there is no prospect of these parties delivering a clean break Brexit.
Marr persists with his line, reminding Farage that: "We've just heard you and everybody else in the leave campaign saying there was going to be a deal. We are now in a very, very different situation".

And, to that, Farage declares that: "We didn't ask for a free trade deal. That is a fault of a prime minister who has wilfully deceived the nation from the very beginning". And from there, he attempts to change the subject, to the issue of democracy.

There is here, quite obvious confusion. The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Mrs May is, by its nature, the "divorce" settlement. Not until we have left the EU can the UK then negotiate a trade agreement with the EU, which is what the political declaration is all about.

Farage was pressed on the point that "actually disentangling ourselves from the EU without there being an economic hitch after 45 years is very, very complicated, very, very difficult". Says Marr: "It requires nuance and patience and that is what the government has been trying to do. And in a sense you’re sitting at the back of the classroom throwing bottles". Yet all we get from Farage is:
I'm sorry, I'm sorry the government has not been doing that. The government is trying to sign us up to a new European treaty which keeps us tied in terms of our military, our security, keeps us effectively inside a customs union. We have been betrayed, not just by the Conservatives, Labour have done the same thing too and ultimately – and this is what people are talking about outside central London, do we live in a democratic country or don't we? That's the debate, Andrew, that is going on in the country.
Dwelling further on the Norway option, Farage then concedes that this country was doing better than we are, but that we can do much better than that. "We could have gone for a free trade deal", he says, but "we didn't". He adds: "We're now three years on, we have to deliver the democratic will of the people of this country and the only way we can do that is by leaving on WTO terms".

So there we are. The logjam in parliament means nothing to Farage. The need to settle the Withdrawal Agreement in order to commence negotiations on a trade deal passes him by. The fact that through the referendum campaign and beyond, he consistently told the nation we could negotiate a free trade deal no longer applies. We have been "betrayed" and the only way out is to leave on WTO terms. The Dolchstoßlegende reigns supreme.

And that, on 23 May, is what Farage wants people to vote for.

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