Sat, Feb 02, 2013 - Page 9 News List

British anti-EU party leader sees exit from bloc ‘in few years’

By Andrew Osborn and Guy Faulconbridge  /  Reuters, LONDON

“I don’t want to turn my back on Europe, but it’s not the future,” said Farage. “The future is the emerging world.”

While many businesspeople support a renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership, they have also warned that years of doubt over Britain’s EU membership would damage the US$2.5 trillion economy and hinder investment. Farage disagrees.

“Europe has a demographic time bomb,” he said. “It’s stuck with the idea of a social market model ... which means it’s falling behind in competitiveness terms ... and it has a eurozone crisis which it is determined not to admit defeat on, which means a decade of agony.”

Cameron accepts much of that analysis, but argues that London can distance itself from the problems while staying in the EU.

His demand for change in Brussels and pledge of a referendum seem to have gone down well with voters. One poll has suggested a swing of up to 4 percent from UKIP to the Conservatives.

For those keen to vote “No” to Europe, a vote for Cameron in 2015 may seem a better bet, since voting UKIP is more likely to bring a Labour government not committed to an EU referendum.

However, Farage dismisses suggestions Cameron has stolen his thunder and deprived UKIP of its distinctive appeal: “He’s let us down on this very same promise once before,” he said of a Conservative plan for an EU vote. “He’s used up so much trust.”

UKIP was still the only party that favored complete and immediate withdrawal from the EU, he said.

“The Conservative party is wedded to political union of the European Union. They believe in it, they have done for over 50 years. He’s actually calling for deeper integration,” he said.

That is a complaint that has found favor in Conservative heartlands across the wealthy suburbs and rural areas of southern England. Though a winner-takes-all constituency voting system means UKIP has no seats in the London parliament, it has 12 in the European legislature in Brussels.

Once shunned by Britain’s mainstream media, Farage rubbishes long-standing accusations his party are “the BNP in blazers” — a middle-class, golfing version of skinhead racists in the British National Party — and is now a regular on political talk shows.

In sharp pinstripe suit, black fedora and colorful silk tie, he dresses like the City trader he once was.

Fast-talking, he peppers his speech with jokes and the odd expletive, and professes that though politics is a deadly serious business “it doesn’t mean you can’t have a bit of fun too.”

It is a routine he says he has perfected as “a street scrapper” in many a debate in pubs up and down the country.

Married and a father of four, Farage has survived being run down by a car — when he admits he was drunk — a plane crash during an election stunt and testicular cancer, but said his lust for “living life” was undimmed.

He smokes, enjoys British beer and French wine, bets on horses, likes sea fishing and some years ago shrugged off tabloid headlines about a night with a young Latvian woman.

Farage is a paradoxical figure. Though frequently derided as “a little Englander” — a jibe at his isolationist views — he is married to a German.

And though he says he hates everything about the EU, he is a lawmaker in the European Parliament.

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