Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s populist Brexit Party, lent his support to the nascent Vexit movement at Liberty University on Wednesday, saying Virginia localities upset with the direction of the state government should have the right to break away and join West Virginia.
“When local people want to make changes and change their structure of government, they should be able to do so,” Farage, a conservative British politician known for championing his country’s exit from the European Union, said.
Vexit grabbed headlines last week when West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, and Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. both publicly endorsed a plan for Virginia counties and cities unhappy with Democratic control of the state to secede.
The Vexit movement is, in part, inspired by Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, a process popularly known as Brexit.
For more than two decades, Farage helped lead the Brexit push as a member of the European Parliament. His attacks on the EU made him a well-known figure in Britain and ultimately helped convince a majority of voters to approve the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“What we got talked into was a system where our parliament couldn’t legislate for the British people, the European institutions legislated for the British people,” Farage said. “We literally, by stealth, gave away our independence.”
Farage’s appearance at Liberty’s convocation came just five days after the United Kingdom officially exited the European Union, closing the more than three-and-a-half-year-long saga. Before coming to Lynchburg, he spent Tuesday in Washington, D.C., where he attended the State of the Union address.
In his remarks at Liberty, Farage, a supporter and ally of President Donald Trump, drew parallels between Brexit’s surprise victory in the summer of 2016 and Trump’s improbable election just a few months later. Both outcomes, he said, were driven by ordinary citizens who were fed up with government overreach.
“In 2016, we got Brexit and we got President Trump,” Farage said. “It was a great year.”
Farage also urged Liberty students to prioritize protecting civil liberties and other freedoms over chasing high-paying careers after they graduate.
“If you want to be free people, if you want to be able to live in liberty, if you want to be able to determine your own futures, you cannot take these freedoms for granted,” he said. “You have to fight for these freedoms and fight for them every day of your lives.”
At the conclusion of the event, Falwell awarded Farage an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in recognition of his work promoting Brexit.
“He’s a testament to what one person can do if they don’t quit, they don’t give up and they persevere,” Falwell said.
Unlike Brexit, it is unclear how much support Vexit has managed to win.
The issue has not yet been formally discussed by local governments in the Lynchburg region but in Tazewell County, which sits on the West Virginia border, several residents spoke in favor of Vexit at a county supervisors meeting Tuesday, though no official action was taken, according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
In Campbell County, Rick Boyer, a conservative activist attorney and former local elected official, is working to bring the issue to local lawmakers.
Under the plan proposed by Vexit advocates, localities interested in joining West Virginia would hold non-binding referendums on secession in November. If the referendums succeed, Falwell has argued, it will put pressure on state legislators to allow those counties and cities to separate from the state.
Farage had just one piece of advice for Vexit supporters: have patience.
“It’s very easy to start exit campaigns,” Farage said, “but they often take a bit longer than you think they’re going to.”
Richard Chumney covers Liberty University for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.