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Those campaigning for Brexit can be split roughly into two camps: the nice and the nasty. Both sides have charismatic leaders: Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, leads the former tendency with his upbeat bonhomie and Churchillian rhetoric about the vision of a great “independent” Britain trading with the rest of the world.
Leading the other faction is Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence party, who has caused headaches for other proponents of the Brexit cause with his abrasive campaigning style. The official Vote Leave campaign calculated early on that Mr Farage’s supporters are already highly motivated and that therefore he did not need to be at the centre of the operation.
But Ukip decided otherwise, and its leader has done his own thing, riding around the country on a battle bus and launching his party’s own poster campaign. Letting “Farage be Farage” might have been fine at first, but some feel that a line has recently been crossed. In particular, Ukip’s “Breaking Point” poster has caused consternation in Brexit circles.
Mr Farage, who has no formal links to Vote Leave, appears to have commissioned and created it of his own accord, without any assessment of how it would affect the wider Brexit strategy. When Vote Leave officials saw the poster they reacted with horror — it is just the sort of messaging that turns off undecided voters.
The Eurosceptic justice secretary Michael Gove acknowledged this on Sunday when he said that he had “shuddered” after seeing the poster. Mr Farage, meanwhile, has independently adopted some of Vote Leave’s slogans — the phrase “take back control” has cropped up in his interviews of late.
Mr Farage has also touched on a sore point for Leave campaigners. On ITV’s Peston on Sunday, he said: “We did have momentum until this terrible tragedy.” He is right that the Leave camp shut down after several days of intense campaigning last week following the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox, but nearly all other Leave campaigners have avoided mentioning the topic.
Some might argue, however, that the “nice” camp has also strayed into some nasty territory. Its warnings about Turkish accession to the EU and its impact on the UK have increased in volume and raised eyebrows. It was deemed necessary by Vote Leave campaigners in order to bolster their immigration message without going as far as demonising refugees.
But one thing is certain: if Britons do not vote for Brexit on Thursday, the recriminations will begin and many Leave campaigners will have Mr Farage in their sights. He might be partially responsible for the referendum being called in the first place, but the tone and timbre of his campaigning has not gelled well with others on the same side. Mr Farage, it appears, is not a team player.
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