Our Washington editor Amber Athey interviewed Nigel Farage, founder of the UK Brexit party, for a Steamboat Institute livestream. We’ve published the transcript below.
Amber Athey: Welcome everyone to the Steamboat Institute’s live broadcast. I’m Amber Athey, the Washington editor for Spectator USA. And I am joined by Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Brexit party, who will also be a keynote speaker at the Steamboat Institute’s annual Freedom Conference this year from August 28 to 29. Nigel, thank you so much for joining us again.
Nigel Farage: Thank you. No problem at all.
AA: So I want to go ahead and get started by giving you a chance to respond to a little bit of a controversy. People are very upset with you for attending Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And they say that you may have put public safety at risk by defying travel restrictions. What is your response to that?
NF: I was coronavirus-tested on Saturday. I was coronavirus-tested on Monday. In between those tests, I went to the Trump rally in Tulsa and I returned to the United Kingdom. You know, I have been fully tested, absolutely careful. I presented a risk to absolutely nobody. What people are upset about is, just as in 2016, I was prepared to put my head over the parapet to back Donald Trump for the presidency. People didn’t like that. Well, you know what? He won. And I’m prepared to do the same again in 2020. That’s what they’re upset about.
AA: And it has been four years since Brexit. Do you think that Trump is still a reliable ally for the UK?
NF: I can’t think there’s been an American president for a very long time with stronger Anglophile and English speaking world tendencies than Donald Trump. You know, I felt during the Obama years that really in terms of Europe, what America was focused on was Germany, who they saw as being the dominant country in a new European state. Donald Trump is taking us back to more traditional alliances at the moment. The Brits have not really been able to fully respond because, of course, we’re still stuck with Brexit negotiations. But now I think that Trump and many of the people around Trump want to see in terms of security, in terms of defense, in terms of investment, in terms of commerce and business. I think they all want to see a much closer relationship with the UK. Hey, I’m all for that.
AA: The US and the UK are currently trying to hammer out a trade deal. Robert Lighthizer recently said that he does not expect that to occur before the election. Do you still feel optimistic that a deal can be made?
NF: You know, when I went into the Trump Tower on Saturday the 11th of November 2016, I spoke to people on the Trump team who said, haha, we’ve won. Let’s get a rapid trade deal conducted in the next 90 days. Some of them didn’t realize, of course, that although we’d voted to leave the European Union, we hadn’t actually left. And of course, there was still the negotiation to go on about us probably leaving the single market. So many on the American side stopped taking the United Kingdom seriously. I think that since the 31st of January, they began to take it seriously again. But look, what are the prospects of this being done before the election? Frankly, just about zero, because we are far from completed. It would leave the transition phase with the…
AA: Yeah. Let’s go ahead and jump back to the coronavirus for a second. You talk about China because as we know, they have been engaged in a cover-up of information about the coronavirus, particularly how much it spread in their own country. And Boris Johnson is still looking at allowing Huawei to come in and build part of their 5G in England. What do you think the appropriate response to China is at this point, and do you approve of Boris Johnson making this deal?
NF: From 2010, David Cameron and George Osborne, the chancellor, decided that China was our future. Osborne said so many, many times, and since that moment, not just have Huawei dug themselves deeper into our telecoms industry using an advisory board made up of former politicians, big globalists, business leaders, even former civil servants. We’ve even let China into our nuclear industry. We’ve let China into our steel industry. And there’s almost nothing the Conservative party would not do to allow the Chinese Communist party to have a closer link with the United Kingdom. And Boris, of course, is very much an establishment politician, very much some of it goes with prevailing trends and goes with the flow. So he’s kind of inherited this from David Cameron and Theresa May’s time as leader of the Conservative Party. What he’s finding is in the country in public opinion, amongst his own backbenchers, there is now huge growing opposition to Huawei being involved in our telecom sector. And it’s worse than that because now there is even a big proposed Huawei investment in a factory in Cambridge in England. And so Boris is clinging on to the old guard idea that China is our future, his party and the country increasingly saying that it’s not. And this is one battle that I do believe Boris Johnson will lose.
AA: How do you think he should be responding to China instead?
Well, I mean, look, I think what he should be saying is that we become beholden to China to the most extraordinary degree. I mean, how can it be that 80 percent of the antibiotics we take in the UK are manufactured in China? I mean, they could hold us hostage on health, on nuclear power, on steel, on all sorts of things. What Boris should be saying is recognizing that the Chinese Communist party are fully in control of that country. They are not a force for democracy. They’re not a force for good. They’re even trying to use the coronavirus crisis, which they caused, and try to use that to further their global power agenda. So I would like to see Boris do a complete 180 on China. But you know what? He’s capable of that because he’d never advocated Brexit until a few weeks before the referendum. He’d always been a Remainer. So Boris is very, very good at moving with the political wind. And I predict on China, he will do so.
AA: Right, and it’s very much the same in the United States that so much of our pharmaceutical industry is dependent on China. Do you feel like their growing power across the globe has changed your own views on trade?
NF: Yes. I mean, I’ve always naturally been very much on the free trade side. One of the reasons I was so opposed to EU membership is that it was an outdated customs union as sort of a concept rid of that goes back centuries. And what that did was not just to bind our economy to a rulebook set somewhere else, but to prohibit us from making our own trade decisions around the rest of the world. So I am by instinct a free trader. But there are things like national security. There are things like the safety of information that override my natural free trade instincts. And I think that China now poses a bigger threat to the free world than anything we’ve seen for many, many decades. Certainly anything we’ve seen since the Cold War of the 1980s with Russia. And I would, I mean, I would now like us to do far less business with China, start manufacturing more of these drugs and other products inside our own country. And if that means we pay a bit of a higher price, well do you know what? We do that already in terms of foodstuffs. We demand higher standards for animal husbandry, for use of pesticides. And consumers pay the price for that. And I think for national security, for getting manufacturing back into the United Kingdom, I do think we would be prepared to pay a high price.
AA: I want to get your thoughts on the coronavirus more generally in terms of the lockdowns and the economic shutdowns that have occurred. Do you feel like, generally speaking, these have been more helpful or more hurtful to the people?
NF: Well, when coronavirus first really hoved into view, when we first started to really understand how serious this could be in late February. And we had the examples of Spain, Italy in particular, you know, what was happening in Milan and then some of those surrounding towns was really, really worrying in its intensity, worrying in terms of the numbers, also worrying because of the sheer number of younger people that were getting into intensive care units in northern Italy. So I felt that to lock down against something we didn’t understand made sense to buy us time and work out a way forward. And I think Boris Johnson dithered on this. I mean, at the very moment that the Irish were locking down, we were holding the Cheltenham Race Festival, horse race festival, with a quarter of a million spectators. And I think, you know, and it’s been argued elsewhere, that that last four or five they dither from Boris doubled coronavirus infections within the United Kingdom. So, yes, I was in favor of locking down to begin with to buy us time to work out a strategy to learn more about this virus and what it meant. But the odd thing is we were slow into lockdown and now the government is being very slow out of lockdown. Two days ago, Boris Johnson said it’s time to end our hibernation. Well, I don’t know where he’s been for the last three weeks, but our beaches are packed. Our parks are packed and people are going out and socializing in absolutely huge numbers. So you almost got to a point with this where no one’s really listening to what the government has to say.
AA: Yeah, and meanwhile, in the United States, we have riots in pretty much every major American city, clearly showing that people are not concerned about the coronavirus in that case. These people have also been tearing down statues of great American leaders, and the trend has even made its way across the pond with particular regard to the statues. If it were up to you, how would you be responding to these protests in attempting to restore law and order?
NF: Well, look, you know, we had just last night in Brixton, in London, a pretty major riot. Up to 40 police officers injured, and yet it’s hardly a news story on the BBC or in this country today because it’s inconvenient. It doesn’t suit the narrative they want. Look, here is one really important point to make. The three words, ‘black lives matters’, if in your mind what that stands for is equality of opportunity, fairness in society, and righting some of the wrongs of the past, that’s fine. But when I see senior police officers, when I see media commentators, when I see our leading politicians saying we support the Black Lives movement, I wonder just how deep their ignorance is because the Black Lives movement is an openly Marxist, anarchistic group. And what is going on with tearing down statues, with doing everything that they possibly can do to make a…this is not about racial equality. This is about destroying all the symbols, all the identity of a nation-state. It’s what Marxists do before every revolution. And I am just astonished at the weakness of leadership we’ve seen in the face of this mob. I mean, the Colston statue was one statue that was torn down in this country. Most of the media said that was fine because this guy had been involved in the slave trade. But unless you support the rule of law, don’t be surprised if the lawmakers then view the police and the authorities as a joke. And I have to say, I fear for America and the United Kingdom. We’re in for a very long, hot, difficult, disruptive summer.
AA: Right. And in the US, you know, conservatives were mocked for years for suggesting that tearing down Confederate statues would be a slippery slope to eventually tearing down things like American presidents. But unfortunately, they’re being proven right when it comes to the defund the police movement, which has now become wrapped in with the Black Lives Matter movement, a lot of people have pointed to the fact that a majority of police in the UK don’t carry guns. They see that as a potential solution in the US. Do you think that’s something that could reasonably be implemented in the United States? Or is this a sort of a fallacy?
NF: Look, you know, whether the police carry guns or carry tasers or are prepared to use force, you know, that’s up for each individual police force to decide how best they police the situation. What I can tell you is when the police stand by and allow Winston Churchill’s statue to be defaced two days running, when the police stand by to allow the Cenotaph, our National War Memorial to the one and a half million dead of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, when you stand by and allow the mob to do what the hell they want and when your police bosses say that if police officers want to take the knee as a sign of respect, that’s fine, you are pandering to an anti-police, anti-society anti-capitalist mob. The leadership of our police force in this country has been shameful. And that’s why I’m not at all surprised to see what happened in Brixton last night. And I fear there’ll be more of it. So it’s about, back to your question, it’s about the police regaining authority on the streets. And if respect means that people might just be a tiny bit afraid of the police, that might not be a bad thing.
AA: Sure. I mean, otherwise, you see things like what’s happening in Seattle with the autonomous zone, people being shot inside and then being upset when the police aren’t there to save them. I mean, how many of these people who are talking about defunding the police would be terrified if they weren’t able to call them to come help them in a situation?
NF: Without police, without justice, we cannot have civilized Western societies. It all depends on the rule of law. And it’s why what’s happened over the last few weeks giving succor to mob rule is such a complete and utter disaster. And I’m ashamed of the media, ashamed of the fact that our mainstream media organizations, I mean, when I’ve been on programs saying to them, ‘do you realize that Black Lives Matter is a defund the police Marxist movement?’ they scream at me, ‘liar’. It’s as if to even question this organization means you have racist intent. And the level of cowardice we’ve seen from everybody, including the big corporate companies, including the British Premier League, who put Black Lives Matters on the back of their shirts for the first football match. As I say, the principle of racial equality is a good thing we can fight for. The organization Black Lives Matter needs to be called out. People need to understand what they’re allowing to go on here.
AA: I want to ask you about something a lot of the people in the comments are interested in, which is the current immigration situation in the UK, a lot of people are suggesting that the enforcement has been very lax. What are your views on that?
NF: I’ve been out in the last month or two into the English Channel witnessing what is now happening on a daily basis, and that is small inflatable dinghies sailing across the English Channel from France. Once they get within 12 miles of the British coast, they’re in British territorial waters, British agencies pick them up, bring them into Dover, process them, put them on coaches, and take them off to four star hotels. And nobody, almost nobody now is ever asked to leave the country, despite the fact almost none of them would ever qualify as refugees under the UN Geneva 1951 declaration on what the categories were for refugee status. Over 80 percent of them are young men between the ages of 18 and 26. And we have no idea who these people are. But my fear, some of them were probably fighting for Isis until they were defeated in Syria quite recently. It poses great security risks to our country. It is putting a huge financial burden on us. It is making us, frankly, a laughing stock. The government claim it’s all because EU rules mean we can’t send people back to France. But you know something? Australia faced this, you know, 10 years ago. Australia faced people coming from Indonesia. What did Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, do? He took the boats, put them under tow, and took them back to Indonesia. You have to make it clear you will not accept any refugee claim from anybody who’s come to this country across the English Channel. And yet, from Boris, we hear a complete wall of silence.
AA: On a semi-unrelated note, Boris has also said he would be happy to accept three million people from Hong Kong under refugee status. Is there concern there that perhaps Chinese spies or people who are loyal to the Communist party could take advantage of that system?
NF: Well Boris also, twice as mayor of London, suggested mass amnesties for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who come to Britain. So when it comes to immigration, Boris is not very conservative at all. On Hong Kong: look, there are many, many, many extremely well-educated, extremely talented people living in Hong Kong, many of whom have a great respect for the United Kingdom. But the thought we can open the doors to three million is just literally impossible. Could we allow, if the situation gets worse, could we allow a fair number of Hong Kongers to come to Britain? Yes, we could. Three million? Just not possible.
AA: One final question for you, Nigel, you recently left LBC. Does this mean we’re going to see a revival of the Brexit party? What’s next for you?
NF: Well, the LBC thing, I mean, I deeply regret what happened there. I’ve been there for three and a half years. I was in terms of national percentages, you know, their highest broadcast that they had within the network. And I am very, very sorry that things have finished the way they have. I’m not going to elaborate any more on it. I think people can make their own minds up as to what has happened. After a big change like this, I’m going to take some time out. What I’m going to do next, I haven’t decided. I’m thinking about it. As far as the Brexit party’s concerned, well the Brexit party, after six weeks of existence, won the European elections, got rid of Theresa May. I mean, Boris Johnson wouldn’t even be there if it wasn’t for the Brexit party. I think we’ve achieved a hell of a lot. And provided Boris delivers on Brexit, then despite my concern over his weak policies on China, immigration, and much else, provided he delivers on Brexit, he’s done the big thing that he promised the British electorate. But if he lets us down with a last-minute betrayal, then I guess I’ll have no choice but to re-enter the political fight.
AA: Fair enough. Well, let’s give a big thanks to Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit party, for joining us today. We also are really excited that you’ll be joining the Steamboat Institute at their annual Freedom Conference as the keynote speaker. Very much looking forward to that. If any of y’all are interested, please, go ahead.
NF: I’m looking forward to that. And I’m also enjoying The Spectator, which I see has got, you know, the US Spectator, we’ve got the Australian Spectator, so all I can say to you is keep up the good work.
AA: Thank you very much. And if anyone is interested in subscribing, we’re currently running an offer dedicated to the fact that we’re not the New York Times, meaning we celebrate diversity of opinion, so you can use a discount code NOTNYT for 50 percent off a subscription. Thank you, everyone, for tuning in. And thank you again, Nigel. We really appreciate your time.