Nigel Farage’s attempts to spark another ‘Brexit’ in Italy
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After Nigel Farage's role in Brexit, STEVE ANGLESEY looks at why he might be tempted to try to pull off something similar in Italy.
'Mussolini can be quite funny,' Nigel Farage told a Channel 4 reality show in 2014. 'I saw his granddaughter last week… Pretty girl, pretty girl.'
These are opinions Farage might want to keep on the QT now he appears to be acting as unofficial advisor to Italy's version of the Brexit Party, which is due to launch this week. Since historians hold Mussolini's 20-year-long reign responsible for the deaths of one million of his countrymen, it's just possible that not all Italians will chuckle along with Nigel at the thought of his memory.
Neither, you'd imagine, would they be too impressed to learn that Hermann Kelly, who worked as a PR man for Farage's EFDD grouping in the European parliament, used to refer to his boss as 'Il Duce' ('That's just a bit of fun, isn't it,' Nigel told Politico in 2018). Or to recall how in 2017, Farage was booed by Italian MEPs for comparing the EU to the mafia, later withdrawing his remark on the grounds of 'national sensitivities'.
And you cannot see them looking too fondly on Farage's speech in early March at the Daily Telegraph's 'Heroes of Brexit' event, when he claimed Italy's battle with Covid-19 presented a golden opportunity for Britain: 'This awful crisis and the way it is gripping parts of Italy makes a trade deal with the EU easier now than it's ever, ever been. The collapsing Italian economy needs a deal with the UK desperately,' he said.
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None of this will matter much to Farage fanboy Gianluigi Paragone, the former Five Star Movement senator for who is heading up the new 'No Europe for Italy' party – names like 'Quitalia' and 'Italexit' having been deemed too Anglophone – which is already polling around 7%. He calls Farage 'a true British patriot', hailing him for 'bringing the United Kingdom out of the European Union cage... the only one who sent away the technocrats from Brussels'.
The former talk show host shares Farage's awkward squad tendencies; public criticism of his party's fading commitment to Euroscepticism saw him kicked out of Five Star earlier this year. Paragone says the pair have discussed 'the present and future of a truly sovereign country which, even more so after Brexit, is able to give real answers to citizens in the midst of the post-Covid economic crisis'.
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It's hardly surprising to hear that Farage is interested in helping out. Along with the Denmark, Poland, the Netherlands and – risibly – Ireland, Italy is a country he's mentioned repeatedly as being prime for the 'next Brexit'.
Until recently, the polls were firmly against him, with the Italian research institute Censis reporting late last year that only 25% believed leaving the EU was a good idea against 62% who thought it a bad idea. But the union's muddled response has been another silver lining from coronavirus for Farage; in April a Tecnè poll put the numbers at an uncomfortable 51%-49% in favour of Remain.
Those polls are expected to move away from Leave after Italy became one of the key beneficiaries of the EU recovery fund that was finally agreed on Tuesday morning – prime minister Giuseppe Conte says it will receive 28% of the £675 billion available in grants and loans – but Farage has good reason to stay interested. Not only does it look like his lucrative private jet trips to the USA will become far more infrequent after Thursday, November 3, but Italy represents some kind of spiritual homeland for Brexit.
It was after discussions with Five Star co-founder Gianroberto Casaleggio in Milan in January 2015 that Farage resolved to make Facebook and data the key battlegrounds for pro-Leave campaigning, telling the political scientists Matthew Goodwin and Caitlin Milazzo: 'If I was starting UKIP today would I spend 20 years speaking to people in village halls or would I base it on the [Five Star co-founder Beppe] Grillo model? I know exactly what I would do.'
Casaleggio's methods attracted the eye of Arron Banks too, making the Milan meeting a fatal first step on the road to Leave just 17 months on. The Brexit Party, which toppled Theresa May and appears to have forced Britain into the kind of Brexit that in 2016 existed only in the wildest dreams of the wildest Leavers, was founded in Five Star's image.
Banks can now be found working for crotchety right-winger Winston Peters in his flagging New Zealand general election campaign against hugely popular incumbent PM Jacinda Ardern, telling website Newshub Nation this week that he is determined to deliver 'Winston on steroids… a happy warrior'.
Far cry, isn't it, from the days after Barack Obama delivered his pro-Remain 'Get to the back of the queue' speech in March 2016? Back then, Banks' organisation responded with a 'Back Off, Barack!' petition and Farage warned him to 'butt out' of the Brexit debate.
Honestly, the cheek of these foreigners trying to interfere in the democratic process of other countries...
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