Bournemouth, England (Reuters) – Nigel Farage, the firebrand of Britain’s Brexit campaign, used his final speech as leader of the UK Independence Party on Friday to demand that his successor pushes for a “hard” EU exit that meets the demands of his party’s voters.
UKIP played a crucial role in the June 23 European Union referendum, tapping into anger at Brussels and rising anti-establishment sentiment to fuel a surprise 52-48 percent exit vote which rocked global financial markets.
But the party has suffered a series of bitter rows over its future direction since then and, with its main star Farage stepping down, faces a struggle to retain its influence over voters. His successor is due to be named later in the day.
Making his valedictory address at the UKIP annual conference in the southern English resort of Bournemouth, Farage said his party had “changed the center of gravity” of British politics.
But he warned that his successor must not let the government water down the terms of Britain’s EU exit.
“We can be very proud of the fact that we won the war but we now must win the peace,” he told a crowd of cheering activists.
“The only mechanism to put pressure on the government to keep the debate live and to make sure that those 17.4 million people (who voted ‘Leave’) get what they voted for is for UKIP to be healthy and for UKIP to be strong.”
Commentators say UKIP has become so synonymous with Farage, who first led the party from 2006 until and 2009 then took over the reins again the following year, that his departure leaves a huge gap which will be hard to fill.
His speech drew rapturous applause from supporters crowded into the conference hall to see the party’s star performer.
It set out three criteria by which the success of the government’s Brexit negotiations should be judged: whether Britain is outside the single market and free from European regulation, whether it has control of fishing rights in its territorial waters, and whether it has got rid of EU passports.
After the referendum result, Farage said he would step down as leader, and has since lent his experience of leading a popular political uprising to U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.
“I intend this autumn to travel around some other European capitals to try and help independents and democracy movements in those countries too,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Tina Bellon in London; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
Photo: Nigel Farage, the outgoing leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), speaks at the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth, Britain, September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville