The rise of Ukip and the highway to Brexit was greatly smoothed by the widespread perception that British governments had lost control of immigration. For many years, we purists in matters of nation-state independence struggled to articulate a stand-alone ‘sovereigntist’ argument that would catch fire with the wider public. But then Tony Blair threw open the UK labour market to millions of workers from the A8 EU accession countries, without even taking advantage of the transitional controls offered to existing member states by Brussels. As enormous numbers of Poles, Slovakians and others came to Britain to compete for working class jobs, suddenly we were in business.
It is often forgotten how long it took Nigel Farage to break-out of the fringe right-wing zone in which the British media kept him corralled. But it was well into the 2010s before right-of-centre newspapers became willing to quote him extensively. Without all the main parliamentary parties being seen to fail on immigration control – first Labour and then the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition – I doubt it would have happened.
As we know, genies cannot easily be put back into bottles and so it has proven with Farage. And yet he has not been a fixture in frontline politics, instead diversifying into broadcasting first with LBC and lately with GB News. His direct political activity has waxed and waned for 15 years or more.
In 2009, he led Ukip to second place at the European elections but stood down as leader before the 2010 general election having correctly discerned that it would be a tough gig. A return followed, which encompassed outright victory at the 2014 European elections and a spectacular 13 per cent vote share at the 2015 general election. But within weeks of the Brexit referendum success of 2016, he quit the party leadership again.