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Farage ignores convention at Westminster, just as he did in Europe

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Power is transferred with swift brutality in the United Kingdom. Rishi Sunak was definitively defeated in the early hours of Friday morning. By Friday lunchtime, Sir Keir Starmer was in 10 Downing Street. But in the chamber of the House of Commons, decorum is meant to reign for a week or two, until the King has formally opened the UK parliament and the raucous politics that sometimes horrifies and ofter amuses television viewers in other countries can resume.

That suited the new Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer, just fine. After short speech full of platitudes, he hoped everyone else would follow suit -his plane was waiting to fly him to the NATO summit in Washington. It certainly suited Rishi Sunak, now serving “humbly” -a word he actually used- as Leader of the Opposition until the Conservative Party gets round to replacing him.

At least he swallowed his pride and did his duty; the last ex-Prime Minister in his position, Gordon Brown, left it to his deputy to stand in for him. But the respectful didn’t last. Nigel Farage might be a political veteran but as leader of the Reform Party, actually a company in which he is the majority shareholder, he was also the first new MP to make a maiden speech.

The man who left the European Parliament several years after telling the President of the European Council, Hermann Van Rompuy, that he had “all the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk” made his Westminster debut in the same vein. He couldn’t resist slipping into a speech, which began politely enough, that a previous Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, was a “little man … who besmirched the office so dreadfully in doing his best to overturn the biggest democratic result in the history of the country.

By that he meant the narrow referendum vote for Brexit and Speaker Bercow’s attempts to do his job by upholding the principle that ultimately it’s parliament, not the government, that decides what should happen. Bercow resigned shortly after the then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had parliament unlawfully suspended from sitting so that he could avoid that constitutional difficulty.

Sat next to Farage was another former MEP, Jim Allister. He’s generally remembered in the European Parliament as quite a nice guy, at least until he mentioned his principle political belief, the absolute right of Northern Ireland’s Unionists to have their own way, whatever the wishes of Irish nationalists, politicians in the rest of the UK or -especially- in the rest of Europe.

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His ‘Traditional Unionist Values’ are no longer just a mindset but an actual political party. He defeated Ian Paisley Junior in the seat previously held by his father, the Reverend Ian Paisley, mostly remembered as a man who did uphold those traditional unionist values but nevertheless ended his political career governing Northern Ireland in partnership with the former IRA commander Martin McGuiness.

Rishi Sunak’s reward for having the decency to turn up was to hear Jim Allister rubbish what’s generally regarded as the one reach achievement of his premiership, the Windsor Framework whereby leaders in Brussels, London, Dublin and Belfast found a post-Brexit trading agreement for Northern Ireland that they could all live with.

But not Jim Allister. He wasn’t at Westminster just to observe the niceties. “Northern Ireland’s place within this United Kingdom must be restored”, he sort of thundered. (He doesn’t actually have the thunderous delivery of the late Reverend Paisley). “We must end the partitioning of our kingdom by a foreign border, and we must end a situation in which 300 areas of law in Northern Ireland are controlled not by this House, and not by Stormont, but by a foreign Parliament”, meaning his old home in Brussels and Strasbourg.

Nigel Farage also claimed that Westminster’s most watched weekly event, Prime Minister’s Questions, “is global, box office politics”, not acknowledging that foreign viewers often see the knockabout as political comedy. He’s just become a new act in that circus.

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