Nigel Farage is sitting in a black leather armchair in his European Parliament office in Brussels. In front of him is a glass table, and next to him is a coffin. The casket, with a large euro sign stuck to the front, has been standing there next to his desk for years. The symbolism is impossible to miss. For the last 20 years, Farage has been fighting against the EU and against the euro. He would like to bury both – which is why he ran for European Parliament as a member of UKIP, his party.
Farage's mission is to destroy the EU from within. He was the face of the Leave campaign, which ultimately led to the successful Brexit referendum last year. As head of UKIP, he was an instrumental public figure in convincing the British public to vote in favor of the country's historic exit from the EU.
Along with David Cameron and Boris Johnson, Farage is one of the key initiators of Brexit. To demonstrate as much, he put on his United Kingdom socks for the day of our interview. The Union Jack is clearly visible between his suit pants and his shoes. "Proud. Ohh, I don't know about proud." But he does say at the beginning of the interview that he is amused by the incipient Brexit negotiations. The interview was organized by his press spokesman, who is also present.
ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Farage, parliamentary elections are to be held in your homeland in just a few weeks. Why are you sitting here in Brussels in your British socks instead of helping out with the Brexit negotiations back home?
Nigel Farage: If the British government had asked me to help them in any way with Brexit, I would have done that. But of course, they wouldn’t. They will always hate me. They will always see me as an outsider. They will never forgive me for being successful. I don’t mind.
ZEIT ONLINE: What is your role here in European Parliament?
Farage: In some ways, I am one of the pan-European political figures there are here. I am well known in every European country. And actually, Euro-skeptic groups in some way see me as the grandfather of Euro-skepticism.
ZEIT ONLINE: You see yourself as pan-European? How can you fight against something that you yourself embody?
Farage: That's ironic. I know.
ZEIT ONLINE: Since 1999, European Parliament has paid your salary as a representative. Why do you accept money from an institution that you want to destroy? How can I explain that to my eight-year-old daughter?
Farage: You tell your daughter that a wave of insanity overcame the political classes of Europe. Europe is not the EU. It's not about a flag. It's not about an anthem. It's a totally false creation. I am working for a real Europe, one that does not attempt to take away from individual member states the nationality, the identity.
ZEIT ONLINE: You don't look like you have lost your British identity.
Farage: We British are not allowed to have our own foreign policy. We are not allowed to have our own trade policy. This is not Europe. We have to break this down. Britain is just the start. The EU is dying. The whole project is finished. It's dying, it's dying.
ZEIT ONLINE: Do you still remember June 23, 2016, the day that Brexit was passed?
Farage: It was one of the best days of my life. Oh yes, in my career, it was the best day ever. After all these years of trying and after all these years of being lonely, it was a big day.
Farage is now in his element, saying things that he repeated hundreds of times during the Brexit campaign last summer. Prior to the campaign, Farage faced accusations that he had misused EU funds. According to a story in the Times, the EU paid almost 60,000 pounds to his personal bank account although some of the money had been earmarked for the upkeep of his parliamentary office not far from Littlehampton. That office, however, was in a house that Farage, as head of the UKIP party, had been allowed to use free of charge. After the Times reported on the inconsistencies, Farage threatened the paper with legal proceedings and levelled accusations against the journalists. He denied that he had done anything improper. As a result of the affair, it came out that Farage and other MEPs from UKIP had only begun filling out EU transparency reports, including for the reimbursement of office expenditures, in 2009.
ZEIT ONLINE: Who financed your Leave campaign?
Farage: Who financed the whole Remain campaign for over 50 years? The government.
ZEIT ONLINE: You didn't answer the question.
Farage: Individuals. Individuals from the UK.
ZEIT ONLINE: And with money from Russia?
"It Was a Private Meeting with Assange"
Farage: No Russian money at all. That's ridiculous. What you are talking about is conspiracy. I never received a penny from Russia. I wouldn’t have taken it, even if it had been offered. This campaign wasn’t about money. It was about messages, good clear messages.
ZEIT ONLINE: Have you ever received external money for your political work?
Farage: No, of course not.
ZEIT ONLINE: You never received any money for your appearances on Russia Today?
Farage: Which I do twice a year. Or three times last year. I am doing global media. I am talking to you as well.
ZEIT ONLINE: Why did you meet with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London?
Farage stops for a moment to think. Following his visit to the Ecuadorian Embassy not long ago, he told reporters directly after his meeting with Assange that he could no longer remember what he had done in the embassy.
Farage: Oh, for journalistic reasons.
ZEIT ONLINE: What? Because you want to write a story about the WikiLeaks founder?
Farage: For journalistic reasons. I will not say anything more about that. But I did it for journalistic reasons, not for political reasons.
ZEIT ONLINE: What do you mean when you say, "journalistic reasons?"
Farage: I will not say anything more about that. If you look at what I do today, I used to do politics 100 hours a week. But now I do politics for 40 hours a week, so I have got a lot of time to do other things. I am a Fox News contributor. I am an LBC presenter. I write.
ZEIT ONLINE: You have transformed yourself from a politician to an entertainer?
ZEIT ONLINE: Entertainers tend to be paid well for the job.
Farage: Yes, some people really get paid for it.
Farage's press spokesman interrupts the interview. He says that the interview had actually been arranged to discuss trade relations between the EU and the UK. Neither he nor Farage, the spokesman says, want to talk about Farage's connections to the WikiLeaks founder or to Russia. Last summer, the platform published emails from Hillary Clinton, an event which had a significant influence on the U.S. presidential campaign. Assange and WikiLeaks are suspected of having connections to hackers in Russia. Farage, for his part, is an acquaintance of Donald Trump's and was the first politician to visit Trump following his election victory. Farage also has ties to Stephen Bannon, Trump's campaign manager and the former head of the pseudo-journalistic website Breitbart.
ZEIT ONLINE: So you were sent by someone to speak to Julian Assange? What did you talk about?
Farage: It has nothing to do with you. It was a private meeting.
ZEIT ONLINE: You just said it was a journalistic meeting, for the public.
Farage: Of course.
ZEIT ONLINE: Are you going to publish an article soon about your connections to WikiLeaks and your meeting with Assange?
Farage: You will have to wait and see. I meet lots of people all over the world. I always help them.
"As a Political Operator, Putin Was the Best in the World"
ZEIT ONLINE: You once said you admire Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Farage: In 2013, as a political operator, he was the best in the world. Yes, this is what I said. But I wouldn’t like to live in his country. I didn’t like a lot of things he did. But as a political operator, he is to be admired.
ZEIT ONLINE: One of Russia's foreign policy goals is dividing and weakening the EU. Could it be that in the case of Brexit, you were directly or indirectly used for this Russian goal?
Farage: It is obvious that the EU wants to expand to the east and threatens Russia. That’s completely mad.
ZEIT ONLINE: What you say isn't true. It wasn't the EU that triggered the revolution in Ukraine, but the Ukrainians who wanted better relations with the EU.
Farage: I want the EU to be destroyed and it doesn’t matter if God or the Dalai Lama wants it was well. The EU is an anti-democratic, failing structure. You know, you are the first person who has asked me if Russia supported me. Maybe you have a special German mindset. No other journalist in the world has asked these questions.
ZEIT ONLINE: I just want to understand your role.
Farage: We have no links to Russia.
ZEIT ONLINE: You didn't meet with the Russian Embassy's deputy chief-of-mission in London?
ZEIT ONLINE: Not in 2013, before the Brexit campaign was conceived?
Farage: Ah, hang on. He came to the EP office. Or I met with him in London. So what?
ZEIT ONLINE: Why did you meet with him?
Farage: I think you are a nutcase! You are really a nutcase! Brexit is the best thing to happen: for Russia, for America, for Germany and for democracy. And that's the key point.
Farage's press spokesman again interrupts the interview. He says that the interview should focus more on trade relations between Germany and the UK. Farage nods.
ZEIT ONLINE: The United Kingdom's economy, along with the economies of the remaining EU countries, will be weakened by Brexit.
Farage: What you are saying is complete rubbish. The idea that the EU is good for the economy is absolutely rubbish. The EU is a failing model.
ZEIT ONLINE: Since when have you been convinced of this fallacy?
Farage: Since 1990. Back then, I decided that the whole thing is nonsense. It will never work. It took a while, but now we have left. And we are the first ones. Others will leave as well.
ZEIT ONLINE: Who?
Farage: We will have to see. Greece. But it could be Denmark or Sweden. We will see.
"You Should Be on a Comedy Show"
ZEIT ONLINE: Greece had that option during the financial crisis, but decided against it. Now that Brexit has come to pass, what are you actually? Are you a journalist or a politician? What is your role?
Farage: Changing public opinion. That’s what I have been doing for 20 years. Using television, media. Shifting public opinion. That's what I am good at.
ZEIT ONLINE: And that's why you had to meet with Julian Assange?
Farage looks to his press spokesman and pauses again.
Farage: That, that is a different angle in this.
ZEIT ONLINE: It's an angle that I want to understand.
Farage: Well, you will not get it. I went to meet him very briefly. We talked about a lot of things.
ZEIT ONLINE: But you didn't want to be seen going into or out of the embassy? Your visit was only publicized because somebody took a picture of you.
Farage's press spokesman interrupts the interview for a third time. He says that Farage should talk about the economy of the United Kingdom. Farage picks up the phone to make a quick call before continuing to speak.
ZEIT ONLINE: You are a citizen of the United Kingdom?
ZEIT ONLINE: In the event of a hard Brexit, you may not be able to work in Brussels or fly to Hamburg without a visa.
Farage: Before 1914, there were no passports at all. So what are you talking about? You obviously don’t know history, do you?
ZEIT ONLINE: Among the EU's fundamental principles is the freedom of movement for goods, services, capital and people. Those who leave the EU risk losing these freedoms.
Farage: When I was elected in 1999, borders and immigrants weren't even mentioned. Not once in my literature. Why? Because it wasn’t relevant.
ZEIT ONLINE: Yet Brexit could result in there being a new border in Europe.
Farage: You are away with the fairies. You must be mad. I have never heard anything so immature in all my life. Because of Brexit I will lose my option to travel to Hamburg? You should be on a comedy show, not be a journalist.
Farage's press spokesman interrupts the parliamentarian for the fourth time. It's too much, he says and indicates to Farage that he should put an end to the discussion. Farage stands up from his leather armchair and sits down at his desk. That's it, he says, and looks at the papers lying in front of him. The interview is over and his press spokesman requests that the journalist leave the room.