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Analysis

Johnson has either conned Farage or is heading for the cliff

by Quentin Peel | 12.11.2019

So was there a dirty deal between Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage that persuaded the Brexit Party leader to pull his candidates out of 317 Tory seats? The Prime Minister’s Sunday night video which promised no extension of the Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020 was perfectly timed to give Farage the excuse he needed to throw in the towel.

Yet we all know it is well-nigh impossible to believe a word Johnson says. He’s the man who promised he would “die in a ditch” rather than accept an extension of the Hallowe’en deadline to leave the EU. There is no sign of that ditch.

Either Farage is a lot more gullible than his track record suggests, or the Prime Minister has just put “no-deal” Brexit back on the table, by promising the undeliverable: a comprehensive free trade deal within a matter of months.

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There is not a single serious trade negotiator who believes that Johnson can deliver what he has promised by the end of 2020. Most doubt that it would be possible to reach agreement in anything less than five years, more probably between seven and 10. A comprehensive free trade deal would then have to be approved by 28 national parliaments, including his own.

Farage may live in fantasy land as far as the benefits of Brexit are concerned, but as a political operator he is a hard-nosed realist. His description of the Johnson deal with Brussels as a “travesty” and a “betrayal” of Brexit came from his head as well as his heart. 

By pulling his candidates out of the 317 seats won by the Tories in 2017, Farage has gifted Johnson some marginal help in warding off a string of defeats by the Liberal Democrats and brave former Conservative independents. Given the sorry state of the Brexit party in the polls, it may not be much in the end. What Johnson really needs is for Farage to withdraw his candidates from Labour marginals that might be winnable for the Conservative party. If he does that, it will be a total humiliation for the man who sees Brexit as his personal triumph. A peerage in the Lords would scarcely be adequate compensation, even for a man with a huge chip on his shoulder.

Or is Johnson playing with the threat of a no-deal Brexit once again, to keep both Farage and the European Research Group Spartans onside? He has cried wolf once already. It has cost the UK exchequer billions in wasted tax revenues on no-deal preparations. Voters should see through his cynical attempts to persuade even the most fanatical Brexiters to vote Conservative, and deny him a majority which might put no-deal back on the table.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

Categories: Brexit, UK Politics