LONDON (AP) — Nigel Farage is reveling in his successful campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, buddying up to Donald Trump and predicting the fire he helped kindle may soon spread to France and finally torch the European integration project.
Heady stuff for a man who was defeated in his 2015 bid for a seat in the British Parliament and who is no longer at the helm of Britain's right-wing UK Independence Party.
Farage is scorned by Britain's power elite but is hardly languishing in obscurity, thanks to his remarkable access to U.S. President-elect Trump. A photo of the two celebrating Trump's win has gone viral.
A Farage interview Tuesday with The Associated Press in his London office began only after an aide took down a painting depicting the EU as a cadaver in a morgue.
Farage said the anti-elite passions that fueled both Britain's Brexit referendum in June and Trump's victory in the United States are spreading to France and other countries and may soon splinter the 28-nation EU.
He's looking to Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front, as the next possible beneficiary as France holds a presidential election next spring.
"If she did win, it would be the end of the European project," said Farage, who says that the polls now showing Le Pen unlikely to triumph may be just as flawed as the polls that indicated British voters would reject Brexit and those that said U.S. voters would not elect Trump.
Farage, 52, has not decided whether to endorse Le Pen because of concerns about many of her party's past positions, which include anti-Semitic comments by her father, a co-founder of the party. But Farage sees the spreading anti-establishment fervor as a validation of his 25-year crusade to torpedo European integration.
Farage, who launched his movement after a successful career as a metals trader, credits his passionate pursuit of Brexit with bringing him into close contact with Trump's inner circle, particularly senior advisers Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.
"They saw Brexit as a source of potential inspiration to Trump's activists and Trump's potential voters," Farage said. "So the link was Brexit, about the little people beating the establishment. And the human link was people like Bannon. I've known them for years and they've been supporting my efforts for years."
Farage's longstanding ties to what not so long ago was seen as a fringe group on the far-right of American politics paid major dividends after the U.S. election, when he became the first foreign politician to have a personal meeting with Trump — at the president-elect's New York penthouse, no less.
Farage claims the meeting was a happy accident. He said he traveled from Florida to New York to congratulate his friends on the Trump team — to take them out for a drink and dinner — and mentioned that he'd like to congratulate Trump in person. The next thing he knew, Farage says, he was taking a golden elevator to the Trump Tower penthouse for an extended meeting with the president-elect.
"All the best things in life happen by coincidence, not by planning," he said. "It's like a good party, either it happens or it doesn't."
The meeting, highlighted by a photograph of the two men with beaming smiles, was followed days later by Trump's unusual suggestion that Farage should be made Britain's ambassador to the United States.
The breach in diplomatic protocol put British Prime Minister Theresa May in an awkward position — she was only the 10th foreign leader that Trump contacted — because it seemed that Farage, who had no official government role, not even a seat in Parliament, had undue influence over the incoming leader of Britain's most vital ally.
"For some reason the president-elect seems to have confidence in me," Farage said. "I know quite a lot of the team around him. And then you have Downing Street, the politicians and apparatchiks who've been very rude about Trump throughout the campaign."
He said May, the leader of Britain's ruling Conservative Party, turned down his offer to help build bridges to Trump, a move he called petty tribalism.
His real problem with May is her government's slow pace of actually implementing Brexit — a British exit from the EU. The prime minister has said she will start the formal exit procedure by the end of March.
"She takes the premiership and says Brexit means Brexit and nearly five months have gone by and nothing has happened," Farage said. "There's no direction, no vision ... It may be the people have spoken but don't get quite what they've voted for."
Farage is casting about for a new role. He stepped down as acting UKIP leader on Monday — despite his many years building the party, it has only one of the 650 seats in Britain's House of Commons — and says he is traveling to the United States shortly "as a tourist."
Does that mean he's looking for a job in the Trump administration?
"I don't think so," said Farage. "I'm a British passport holder, so I would consider that to be quite unlikely."