UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage took another step in proving his value to the front lines of the European Union (EU) exit campaign last night as he trounced Labour’s first minister in Wales, Carwyn Jones, in the first major debate of the campaign.
Going toe-to-toe in Cardiff, the head of UKIP and the head of Labour in Wales locked horns over immigration, the economy, jobs, and Britain’s influence in the world. The result? Although Mr. Jones started strong, he soon petered out – his outdated quotes from big corporates being trumped by Farage’s superior knowledge of the subject matter.
At no point was this more clear during the debate than when Mr. Jones invoked the claims of Airbus’ UK chief Paul Khan, who in May 2015 said: “If after an exit from the European Union, economic conditions in Britain were less favourable for business than in other parts of Europe, or beyond, would Airbus reconsider future investment in the United Kingdom? Yes, absolutely.”
But his words were superceded by the company’s global chief executive just one month later. Fabrice Berger said Airbus has “no intention” of leaving Britain even if the country left the European Union. Mr Jones seemed to be unaware of this development, and he stopped mentioning Airbus in favour of Toyota.
But this morning, Toyota has declared that it too would not leave the UK if Britain left the EU. That’s a pretty shocking result for Mr. Jones, whose only line that seemed to play well with the audience last night was “Nigel Farage never turns up in the Fisheries Committee in the European Parliament”.
Mr. Farage is no longer a member of the committee, but made the point that when he was, his low attendance record was a result of his inability to make changes from within the committee, as rules affecting Britain’s fisheries were not made or altered in committee, but rather issued as directives by the European Commission – a nuance lost of Mr. Jones.
The audience called it for Mr. Farage in a big way, last night, with an ITV Twitter poll revealing that the UKIP leader had won by 79 per cent to 21 per cent.
— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) January 11, 2016
Wales Online – one of the most important news websites in Wales, also called it for the UKIP leader, stating: “Nigel Farage had an answer for everything – and he’s a past master at this.” The website’s own poll reveals that 80 per cent of readers thought Mr. Farage won, while just 20 per cent thought Mr. Jones had won.
And even Europhiles conceded defeat:
— WalesForYES (@WalesForYES) January 11, 2016
#IWADebate Case for staying in wasn’t put strongly enough. Carwyn was out of his comfort zone. Farage in his element. Must change attack.
— Kasim Ali (@kasimali23) January 11, 2016
The BBC Wales’ political editor noted: “Well if we didn’t know already, we learnt how difficult it is for an opponent to land a blow on the UKIP leader in a debate like this.”
Is there another figure who could perform as well as Mr. Farage on this stage? Doesn’t look like it.