The “Ambassador Farage” episode: Brexiteers, be careful what you wish for!

The episode where president-elect Donald Trump twittered that he’d like to get his goodpal Nigel Farage as British ambassador to the US, was a stern lesson to the pro-Brexit-camp in British politics – be careful what you wish for; if you get it, it may turn out to be a nightmare.

The following summary of this episode and the start of Trump’s Transition is mainly based on Dutch newspaper articles: Telegraaf, Financieel Dagblad, Volkskrant, of the past two weeks.

It all started with Mr Farage, being the undisputed first foreign politician to be invited to Trump’s Transition HQ.

Shortly afterwards, in a talkshow on Londons LBC Radio, Mr. Farage said that what president Trump needed was “a good eurosceptic ambassador” in Brussels for the EU and European NATO partners, and he would like to get that job. Another guest on the show, Labour MP Chuka Ummuna, expressed his horror at that idea, to which Farage replied “anything that will diminish or destroy the EU; I don’t care how we do it.”

Meanwhile it appears that Mr.Farage is resisting calls to return to active British politics; he says he prefers to be a roving European ambassador of Brexit populism, preaching to- and encouraging the converted: Front National in France; AfD in Germany, Jobbik in Hungary, 5 Star Movement and Lega Nord in the Italian referendum campaign. It seems he is abandoning his collapsing UKIP home base in favour of international engagements.

Then came the bombshell: the tweet from Trump suggesting Farage as British ambassador in Washington. Boris Johnson responded through gritted teeth that there was no such vacancy.

It came after Bagehot pointed out that the personality, style and working habits of Trump fly in the face of at least two of the three substantial pillars supporting the “Special Relationship” London politicians love to swoon about.

The supposedly shared history and values form the first pillar. The historical links between US an UK are undeniable, but Trump and the Tories don’t share many values. Theresa May could never suggest banning Commonwealth Muslims from her shore, as Trump has suggested for the US; and their respect for history, tradition and the value of precedents is another firm contrast.

The love of an institutions-based version of international politics is very British (and: European), but Trump will dump that style if it doesn’t fulfill his wishes instantly. See his questioning of Article 5, the very basis of the NATO alliance.

The Tories abhorred the American Revolution and bemoaned the Glorious Revolution (both important parts of history and citizenship teaching in American schools); and the personal background of Mrs. May with her reverend father, and Mr Trump with his New York machine politics-playing entrepreneur father could not be further apart. So the national and family values in which they grew up differ sharply, which is the exact opposite of this pillar. And it also flies in the face of any personal “chemistry” between the two ruling elites, which is the second pillar.

The Trump-Farage episode also disabused the unfounded optimism about Trump’s election which, according to Bagehot, characterized the reaction of many in the British media; they exuded a “British exceptionalism” which would motivate Trump deviating from his general principles:

  • supporting Britain in Brexit- and trade negotiations with the EU (deviating from his avowed “America First”-line);
  • preferring a bilateral trade deal with the UK to continuing trading with the EU common market (think: TTIP with its closed ISDS corporate arbitration mechanism, avoiding international, open courts;
  • Would Trump be prepared to rein in his protectionism to facilitate such a bilateral US-UK trade deal ?
  • Would Mrs.May be able to rein in the Trump love affair with Putin?

The answer to all these questions and dreams/wishes is clearly “no”.

The first foreign government leader Trump received was Japanese prime minister Abe; but that did not stop Trump from announcing the cancellation of the multilateral TPP American-Pacific trade deal which was very important to Tokyo. And Mrs May came only 9th in that line, on the phone…

With the Trump/Farage episode, the Brexiteers, who used a populist stance to win their campaign (£350 million a week  for the NHS”), ran straight into the stormy paradox of helping create a Hobbesian world of populist, protectionist and jingoist states: the populist governments will sooner fight or exclude each other than co-operate to support each others’ national goals.

And Farage as roving Brexit ambassador will have to pacify his old animosity with Marine le Pen (whose racism he abhors; we didn’t hear him about Trump and Latinos) and Geert Wilders’ anti-Muslim crusade; he cannot do so without losing the support of some of his UKIP electorate at home.

* Dr. Bernard Aris is a historian, a D66 parliamentary researcher and a LibDem supporting member.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Nick Collins 25th Nov '16 - 3:25pm

    The one good thing about Brexit is that we shall no longer have to suffer the embarrassment of Farage and his motley crew of cronies “representing” this country in the EU Parliament. If he wants to spend his time toadying to Trump in the USA and to other similarly appalling creatures around the globe, that’s his choice; but let’s make it clear that in doing so he represents no-one but himself and merely demonstrates his own poor judgement.

  • ‘the populist governments will sooner fight or exclude each other than co-operate to support each others’ national goals.’

    Whilst I agree entirely with the direction of your editorial, this statement would seem to be slightly delusional. Instead of the EU pursuing this end, it has seemed more obsessed with the creation of the Federal States of Europe. The UK, Europe and the world are on a dangerous path at the moment and now is the time for humility from all sides. Self examination and a willingness to reform is needed from all sides. This is the only way I can see of saving the core of European values and prosperity.

  • I thought Nigel was busy planning a march, a 100,000 gallant Brexiteers marching down the Strand type of march, a taking our country back type of march, a showing the judges what for type of march. Alas reality intruded and its been cancelled.

  • If Farage can help us get a trade deal with America lets use him. I wouldn’t like to see him as ambassador, but if he was made a special trade envoy – or something along those lines – I would have no problem. The EU are going out of their way to be awkward and we want some trade deals. I just don’t see the problem and if he’s successful I would be more than happy to see him in the House of Lords as his reward.

  • Malc,

    My mother used to say “If you want it, work for it”, I’d suggest the brave Brexiteers roll up their sleeves and build this country back to greatness. Your in charge now, free of the EU lets see what you can do. No time for excuses only time for you and your fellow Brexiteers to crack on and build your dream. Forgive me if I sit and heckle from the sidelines, but after all someone has to fill the roll the Eurosceptics used too have. All I need to do is follow the UKIP handbook delete EU, insert Brexiteer and blame it all on you.

  • @malc If Farage can help us get a trade deal with America lets use him.

    I suggest when it comes to negotiating deals Trump is in a totally different league to Farage. In fact is there any evidence that Farage can negotiate? Also remember to Trump, a deal is never a final agreement, it is always open to renegotiation.

  • Roland

    What he does have is a friendship with Trump and that’s a very good start.

  • frankie

    I voted remain, but we lost so life goes on and we make the best of it. You’ll get no whinging from me, I just want what’s best for the UK now that we are leaving the EU. I’m not really a fan of Farage or Ukip, but if they can get us a decent trade agreement with America that’s great and I’ll take my hat off to the guy. Equally I would like to get a sensible brexit deal with the EU, but if they want to play hardball then I’d walk away and have a hard brexit. It would hurt the UK no doubt about it, but it could be far worse for an EU that is only really being held together by the strength of Germany. Interesting times ahead!

  • Malc,

    UKIP is falling to bits and Nigel is looking for his next meal ticket. Its much more likely he will end up on Fox news as their pet English man than as the next ambassador. Another point is we trade much more with the EU than the USA and appointing Nigel wouldn’t send a good message to them. Finally Trump was amongst other things elected on a platform of economic nationalism, so I’d suspect free trade deals are not top of his agenda. The age of free trade is dying and we have decided to leave the biggest market we had, rather stupid but hey taking back control comes at a price.

  • True democracy is red in tooth and claw. If it’s not brutal and risky on the actions of our would-be leaders,.. it simply isn’t democracy. Party political careerists never seem to get this fundamental element of voter consent. It’s a brutal reality, but politicians are simply ’employed’, for ‘the task in hand’.

    The ‘task in hand’,.. is whatever voters consider it to be. As a consequence, politicians are not rewarded by voters, merely ‘kept-on’ a while longer, or punished. Farage understands this ‘political disposability’,.. right through to the marrow of his bones. Farage knows that he has [almost], completed the ‘task in hand’ required of him, which is the regain of a stolen British sovereignty. If Brexit goes ahead and completes in the next 2 years or sooner .. then the task in hand is complete and we can happily let Farage go. If troublesome individuals try to stop,.. curtail,.. or sanitize Brexit, his voters will demand that he returns to some new Ukip derivative, to complete the task in hand.

    Unlike clueless career politicians, more savvy politicians such as Farage know that they are not,.. at a ‘personal political’ level, actually ‘wanted’.? They are ’employed’, and ‘endured’, until the ‘task in hand’ is completed.

    Taking over from a crushed Cameron,..Theresa May, knows the ‘task in hand’ is Brexit,.. and she must complete it to the satisfaction of those voters who demand it. And in 2020, she will of course be,…………. rewarded..???

    Except that sometimes, history rhymes.

    Taking over from a crushed Chamberlain, Churchill’s ‘task in hand’, was to win the war in Europe, and having completed the task to the satisfaction of British voters, he was duly rewarded.??…… Except he wasn’t,… because voters saw the new task in hand in 1945, as being a time to rebuild a new and more inclusive, less class-ridden, society.
    Voters are not quite as dumb as some liberals think.

    A truly savvy politician, will not just fulfil Brexit, as the immediate ‘task in hand’,.. but endeavour to try and work out what is the next,.. post Brexit,…’task in hand’. To understand what that next, new,.. task in hand is,.. in order to hit the ground running,.. we must listen very attentively to voters sometime around late 2018.?

  • I do think that unlike Farage who recognised what was happening in America, a lot of people across all parties have made hystrionic and insulting comments about Trump and are now looking somewhat less than precient.
    Surely, even if you profoundly disagree with someone, you should be very carefull about using illiberal and offensive language about someone who may be, now will be leader of a major world power? Some of the language I have heard used against Trump even since his victory is far in excess of that used against the leaders of Saudi, Iran, Russia or any of the oter regiemes that do not share our liberal western values. In paticular some people in the Libdems and SNP must surly wish they had been more circumspect, or at least diplomatic in their views. Whatever happened to ‘ challange the argument not the man’ or ‘play the ball not the man’; yes that could equally be said of Trump, but, when claiming the moral high ground one should try to avoid the gutter.
    When fighting ‘monsters’ take care that you do not become monstrous.

  • Jayne Mansfield 26th Nov '16 - 6:09pm

    @ John Dunn,
    ‘ It’s a brutal reality that politicians are ’employed’ simply for the task in hand’.

    Isn’t it a brutal reality that Nigel Farage stood for parliament seven times, and in each constituency, the electorate rejected him?

    With respect, individuals do not appoint themselves to important jobs on behalf of the British people.

  • Matt (Bristol) 26th Nov '16 - 8:04pm

    I despise Farage … but I have an idea that he should be in the House of Lords.

    Or, rather, if there are increasingly concrete plans to leave, and after article 50 has been triggered, I feel that appointing all the current elected MEPs (who were, after all elected fairly on a proportional system) to have the right to become the first elected members of the HoL, on much the same terms as now (maybe building in a way to equalise HoL and HoC election), would be a reasonable way of giving them continued relevance whilst taking new blood into the upper chamber by an operational proportional system, instead of trying to build a new one from scratch.

    Of course, any current MEP who committed expenses fraud during their period as an MEP, or who did daft stuff like punch another MEP may be ineligible to take up their new post…

    But seriously, I would infinitely prefer Farage to be doing a theoretically legitimate job representing the British people (however poorly) – for which he could be held accountable before the rule of law – to him infinitely jetting around the world lobbing off rhetorical hand-grenades on behalf of his rich backers and auditioning for the role of European Quisling for whatever horrible new political ideology / kleptocracy is being born in the US.

  • Tynan,

    “Whatever happened to ‘ challange the argument not the man’ or ‘play the ball not the man’; yes that could equally be said of Trump, but, when claiming the moral high ground one should try to avoid the gutter.”

    I think your a follower of Michelle Obama’s ‘When they go low, we go high’ approach’; now the upside of this is you keep your dignity, the downside is you lose and to be honest a dignified loser is no use to anyone. The moral high ground is of little use, if you lack the power to implement things. You may be impressed with your being the better person position but most people won’t notice and the few that do are unlikely to agree with you.

    If to be able to implement change it means getting your hands dirty then I suggest that’s a price well worth paying.

  • Richard Underhill 26th Nov '16 - 10:24pm

    The Green Party of England and Wales has two leaders on a job-share basis.
    It was once suggested that the London could have a “Day Mayor” and a “Night Mayor” such as Ken Livingstone.

  • Frankie,
    The problem with playing the man not the policy is that it’s prone to backfiring. You couldn’t get a more personality based campaign than Trump v Clinton with vast majority of press time spent depicting Trump as dangerous. He still won. With Farage you’ve got the problem that he’s actually fairly smooth on TV. Also remember Thatcher and Teflon Tony. Neither were short of critics.
    Also Obama won twice without attacking opponents personally and Michelle was a widely respected First Lady. There are different rules for progressive and right wing politicians because right wingers are often very adept at playing the victim by inverting the pieties of identity politics. Their supporters tend be very flinty, very vocal and permanently outraged by perceived attacks.

  • Frankie; I’m all for getting, dirty or even bloody if necessary. I would guess that most governments at some point have had to wrestle with taking morally indefensible but absolutely necessary actions in the name of the national interest as they see it. I do think though that we all should be careful that when fighting for things we believe in, we don’t become the very thing we are fighting against. The end may on occasion justify the means, but it certainly does not follow in all cases.

  • Did they play the man with Trump, I rather think they didn’t, they decried his statement’s but attack ads on his dodgy dealings, multiple bankruptcies and links to foreign governments I think not. They attacked his policies and his statement’s not his character, perhaps if they had they would have won.

  • Frankie,
    They played the man. All those things were mentioned multiple times. Plus lots of stuff about small hands and his weird hair. Obama’s strategy worked, which is the thing that prompted this answer. Plus when Nick Clegg tried to play the man in his Farage debates it backfired badly. The thing about the Right is they tend to dig in behind their man and, because lots of right wingers are very evasive on surveys, it sometimes seems to me the attacks on what the one might rightly see as flaws actually bolster support.

  • Jayne Mansfield 27th Nov '16 - 11:26am

    @ Matt (Bristol),
    I agree with you that Nigel Farage should be elevated to the House Lords, and your view in elected MEPs.

    Under the current system, they have more right to be there than many.

  • frankie

    The Clinton campaign attacked the man so often they forgot to talk about policies – his or hers – which could be why they lost.

  • Glenn,
    They attacked his views and statements. The one time they went for his personality it was he’s a sex pest; sad to say while that infuriates me and I’d assume you, it lack’s traction with the majority. The hammer they had and didn’t use was “he rips people off and he will do the same to you”. They should have used that mercilessly, instead they went high and spent time doing mannequin challenges. Would Sanders have done that?

  • Malc,
    The Clinton camp thought it was ordained that she would win. They couldn’t believe anyone (apart from the deplorables) would vote for him so ignore him and plan for the new administration. They took their eye of game and their foot off Trump’s neck and they lost. They needed to engage with the deplorables and nail Trump morning, noon and night, they did neither.

  • I don’t want Farage ‘elevated’ any where – given that he has already sufficiently levitated on the hot air of his own pomposity and self importance.

  • Frankie, it could be argued that the Lib Dems did roll their sleeves up and got their hands dirty when they agreed to go into coalition in order to implement change.
    Arguably they did get some of their policies implemented and certainly restrained the Tories from implementing some of their more right wing policies, then got decimated in the subsequent election. Was 5 years of shared power worth the price?

  • “@ John Dunn,
    ‘ It’s a brutal reality that politicians are ’employed’ simply for the task in hand’.

    Isn’t it a brutal reality that Nigel Farage stood for parliament seven times, and in each constituency, the electorate rejected him?” [Jayne Mansfield 26th Nov ’16 – 6:09pm]

    Yes it is brutal that Farage only holds political office because of the way in which we elect MEPs. Something for those who propose the wider use of party lists that break the direct relationship and thus chain of accountability between voter and prospective representative to think about.

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