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UK's Farage tries to harness COVID-19 lockdown anger to take on PM Johnson

UK's Farage tries to harness COVID-19 lockdown anger to take on PM Johnson

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage speaks during a visit to Dover harbour in Dover, the United Kingdom, on Aug 12, 2020. (File photo: Reuters/Matthew Childs)

LONDON: Nigel Farage, the British politician who helped force a Brexit referendum and successfully campaigned for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, will fight Prime Minister Boris Johnson's COVID-19 lockdown by recasting his small Brexit Party as Reform UK.

Cast by his supporters as the godfather of Brexit, Farage said Johnson had terrified the UK into submission over COVID-19 and squandered vast amounts of taxpayers' money while holding out hopes of a "miraculous" vaccine.

"The single most pressing issue is the government's woeful response to coronavirus," Farage and Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice said in a joint article in the Daily Telegraph.

"Ministers have lost touch with a nation divided between the terrified and the furious. The debate over how to respond to COVID is becoming even more toxic than that over Brexit."

Johnson on Saturday (Oct 31) ordered England back into a national lockdown from this Thursday morning after the UK passed the milestone of one million COVID-19 cases and a second wave of infections threatened to overwhelm the health service.

The UK, which has the biggest official death toll in Europe from COVID-19, is grappling with more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases a day, and scientists have warned the "worst case" scenario of 80,000 dead could be exceeded.

READ: Europe's COVID-19 cases double in 5 weeks, total infections surpass 10 million

READ: Reports say Britain's Prince William contracted COVID-19 in April

Farage, a former commodities trader, has transformed British politics over the past decade by poaching Conservative voters to force a succession of prime ministers toward ever tougher positions on Europe.

United States President Donald Trump calls Farage a friend, and he has spoken alongside the president during the US election campaign.

He said lockdowns don't work.

Instead, Farage proposed targeting those most at risk, like the sick and the elderly, but said ordinary people should not be criminalised for trying to live normal lives.

"The rest of the population should, with good hygiene measures and a dose of common sense, get on with life. This way we build immunity in the population," he said.

The perceived electoral threat to the Conservatives from the United Kingdom Independence Party, which Farage formerly led, was one of the main reasons why then prime minister David Cameron decided in 2013 to promise the Brexit referendum.

Shunned by the British political establishment, Farage, backed by Eurosceptic financiers, helped sell Brexit to millions of voters in England and Wales who felt ignored by the mainstream Conservative and Labour parties.

The party will be recast as Reform UK - a nod to his view that the country is in urgent need of fundamental reform.

Source: Reuters/kg

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