It’s time for Boris to pull off another deal – with the Brexit Party

It’s time for Boris to pull off another deal – with the Brexit Party

The 2017 General Election demonstrated the danger of relying too much on a double-digit opinion poll lead at the start of the campaign. Boris Johnson is a better campaigner than Theresa May and the forthcoming Conservative election manifesto is likely to be better than the last, but there are new dangers for the Conservatives this time around.

That most respected of psephologists, Sir John Curtice, speaking on LBC yesterday, said ‘the safest prediction is that we will have a record number of non-Conservative and non-Labour MPs in this Parliament’. The Lib Dems are back from the dead and represent a real threat to the Conservatives in a way that they were not last time.

While UKIP, too, was a busted flush in 2017, the Brexit Party is a far more formidable outfit. It is unlikely to win a single seat, but those who vote for it could prevent Boris Johnson from gaining a majority. Allister Heath, in the Telegraph, pointed out that a Brexit Party vote of under 10% was likely to consist mostly of disillusioned Labour voters, but that one of, say, 15% would be more likely adversely to affect the Conservatives.

A lot can happen in an election campaign. Nigel Farage is a formidable campaigner; the Brexit Party has a large and enthusiastic cadre of supporters, created only months ago, using the latest techniques. Since it won the European Parliament elections, from a standing start, it has continued to hold large rallies to keep its supporters on side.

Its argument that the Conservative Party has, again and again, failed to honour its promise to deliver Brexit will resonate with many voters. The readmission of ten of the rebel Remainer Tory MPs yesterday will only add to the suspicion amongst Brexit Party voters that the Conservatives cannot be trusted. During the election campaign, Nigel Farage, Richard Tice and Ann Widdecombe will have carte blanche to pull apart Boris’s Brexit deal, which many Conservatives acknowledge to be deeply flawed.

With good reason, the German army always feared fighting on two fronts; and the Conservative Party should be equally wary of doing so. The good news is that the Brexit Party has offered and continues to offer a way out for Boris. Only yesterday, on Radio 4’s Today programme, Richard Tice repeatedly declined to rule out the possibility that the Brexit Party might not stand against pro-Brexit Conservative Party candidates. Yes, despite its criticisms of the Withdrawal Bill, the Brexit Party is still open to coming to a sensible arrangement with the Conservatives.

In response, although Boris would probably never have become Prime Minister had it not been for Nigel Farage’s triumph in the European Parliament elections, the Conservatives have given the Brexit Party the cold shoulder. Yesterday, Lord Ashcroft tweeted that ‘The Conservatives should come to an accommodation with the Brexit Party along the lines of not standing in say a dozen Labour held northern seats in return for a clear run elsewhere… plus peerages for Nigel Farage and Richard Tice.’ The Conservatives would have next to nothing to lose from such a deal, because it would, by definition, involve only constituencies where they have no chance of winning. Frankly, the Brexit Party would not gain much in return, other than a crack at some seats where they just might have a fighting chance.

It is time for the Conservative Party to demonstrate some magnanimity towards the Brexit Party, in return for an arrangement with it that would be beneficial to both. If it is too proud to do so, and then loses the general election as a result, the finger of blame will be pointed firmly in the direction of big egos at the top of the party for failing to bury their pride in the best interest of Brexit and of the country.

Arron Banks and his Leave.EU campaign are showing the way with the app they plan to introduce to assist tactical voting. It would make sense for the Conservatives to cooperate, so that they have an input in that and similar activity.

Pride, as the saying goes, comes before a fall. The disaster of the last general election must not be repeated. Boris surprised his detractors by doing a deal with the EU; he should do so again by coming to an arrangement with Nigel Farage.

Rudyard Kipling famously wrote:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;

But the words that followed are too rarely quoted:

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!

Come on Boris, come on Nigel: it’s time to do the deal that so many of your supporters and your voters long for you to do.