The Farage ultimatum to the Tories should make Brexiteers despair

The Farage ultimatum to the Tories should make Brexiteers despair

Yesterday morning I waited with bated breath for the Brexit Party’s statement on its election strategy. In the previous 12 hours, Brexiteers had reason to be excited with speculation in the BBC and Daily Telegraph that Nigel Farage wanted to do a deal with Boris Johnson, with the suggestion that the Brexit Party would only stand in between 20 and 100 constituencies. But, to my dismay, the Brexit Party has made the Tories an offer that they will refuse.

The ultimatum posed by Nigel Farage in Westminster was not only for Boris Johnson to tear up his Withdrawal Agreement, but also to give the Brexit Party a free run in around 150 Labour-held Leave-backing seats. Two issues arise from this. First of all, according to the recent YouGov poll, two thirds of Leave voters support Boris Johnson’s new deal. This includes the ‘Spartans’, Lord Trimble and even Arron Banks. And why wouldn’t they? The new deal takes away concerns over the Customs Union imposed upon us in Theresa May’s backstop. It will enable the United Kingdom to pursue our own free trade agreements. The new deal also provides scope for British businesses to benefit from our regulations diverging from the red tape imposed by the Single Market. Most Brexiteers accept the deal is not perfect, but given how the last three years have gone, it is a real triumph of statecraft.

However, it is the Brexit Party’s implied offer to stand [instead of the Conservatives] in 150 Labour seats that is more damaging to a potential pact. While, as I argued yesterday, I agree that the Brexit Party could wreak havoc for Corbyn, I don’t believe there are anywhere near 150 seats where the Brexit Party will fare better than the pro-Brexit Tories. A conservative estimate would show 30 seats where the Brexit Party could displace Labour in the Commons, while an optimistic estimation could see Farage’s party contest 78 seats, including the 30 I established yesterday, and the 48 where UKIP finished above the Tories in 2015.

Farage also said that he ‘hopes common sense prevails’. But what common sense is there in not wanting the Conservatives to contest seats against Labour where they have the higher chance of winning? Farage’s comment suggests that the Tories should not stand in seats like Peterborough and Gower, despite them being seats only lost by the Tories in 2017. In fact, research in the Daily Mail has suggested that in seats where the Brexit Party stood down, 70% of their former backers would side with Boris Johnson, gaining the Tories 38 target seats from Jeremy Corbyn. This potentially includes Workington, which could turn blue for just the second time since 1918.

Given the Brexit Party’s offer, it is unsurprising that the Tories have rejected a Leave alliance. Despite one anonymous Cabinet minister suggesting to the Daily Telegraph that an agreement could see the Brexit Party leak votes from Labour, the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, and Party Chairman, James Cleverly, both rejected an agreement, saying: ‘We’re not interested in doing any pacts with the Brexit Party or anyone else. We’re in it to win it’.

What exacerbates concerns about the lack of an understanding between the Tories and the Brexit Party is that the ‘Unite to Remain’ group consisting of the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens are understood to be forming pacts in 70 constituencies. They are mainly targeting Remain seats and constituencies in the Lib Dems’ former stronghold of the South West, such as Remain-voting Cheltenham and Brexit-backing St Ives, where the current Tory majority is a meagre 312-votes. These Remainer revelations, alongside the memory of the summer by-election loss in Brecon and Radnorshire, should spark concern for the Tories as they will be fighting on three fronts.

Nevertheless, Brexiteers might be able to take some faint hope from Farage’s announcement. Sam Coates of Sky News sees potential that this could be ‘Farage just applying pressure on Tories as they write [their] manifesto’ – in other words, kicking the can down the road for a couple of weeks and exerting as much pressure on Boris Johnson while they can.

Moreover, it is worth recalling that the Brexit Party is split on Boris Johnson’s deal, with MEPs John Longworth and Lance Forman, for example, having voiced their support for it. And as Jonathan Isaby pointed out yesterday, there is far from universal support for the Farage ultimatum even amongst paid-up Brexit Party supporters, if the replies to this tweet from Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice yesterday are anything to go by.