Comms experts criticise Farage's 'smug' speech to EU as likely to harm negotiations

A typically full-bodied and "rude" speech by Nigel Farage to the European Parliament is more likely to harm the UK's cause in negotiations of its exit from the European Union, senior PR figures have told PRWeek.

Farage addressed fellow MEPs yesterday in a speech that began: "When I came here 17 years ago and said I wanted to lead a campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, you all laughed at me... you're not laughing now."

He said the EU was "in denial" about its failings, and told parliamentarians that none of them had ever had a "proper job" – before being told by the parliament's president Martin Schulz that that remark was unfair.

He urged that there should be no delay in Britain's exit from the EU, calling for a "grown-up and sensible attitude to how we negotiate", saying the UK could be the EU's "best friend in the world". He also warned parliamentarians that a non-"sensible" trade deal would have worse consequences for the EU than the UK, saying "even no deal would be worse than the current rotten trade deal we have got".

He tweeted a video of the speech, commenting: "Just spoke in the European Parliament, they were pleased to see me as you can tell."

Matt Carter, founder of research company Message House and formerly the UK boss of Burson-Marsteller, said: "Farage’s speech was everything you’d expect: aggressive, rude, smug and self-satisfied.

"Ironically, for a self-declared patriot, Farage’s interventions not only harm Britain’s reputation but also the cause of those who want Britain to leave the EU," added Carter, who is a former general secretary of the Labour Party.

Burson-Marsteller UK chief operating officer Stephen Day said: "Yes, he's won, he deserves his moment in the sun, but his particular brand of populism will not support the deal British jobs and the British people need. I also don't think that the British people like smugness."

Chris Rumfitt, founder of Field Consulting and formerly Edelman UK's public affairs boss, commented: "Albeit in a bombastic style Farage can, at times, be quite effective in reaching the people he is trying to with simple, clear messages. Here though, he let himself down."

Rumfitt said that Farage's idea of a zero-tariff relationship between the UK and EU would be popular, but went on to say: "Instead of winning support for that, he was far too keen to rub MEPs' noses in it rather than get his point across. Simple rule of communications – no-one is going to listen to you if you’re being rude to them."

Jon McLeod, chair of corporate, financial and public affairs in London for Weber Shandwick, said: "Leaving to one side what these utterances do for our country's brand image, one can only imagine what such remarks may stoke up in terms of the malice that is now being felt towards what is for the time being the United Kingdom. Good luck with the negotiations, guys."

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