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Johnson’s shabby deal with Farage alienates moderate Tories

by Nick Kent | 13.11.2019

Whatever he says to pretend otherwise, Boris Johnson has done a deal with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.  It is a very shabby deal that makes it much more likely that Britain will crash out of the EU in December 2020. As a result, it will motivate many moderate Tories to vote tactically on polling day. 

For months media commentators have been debating whether or not Boris Johnson would enter into an electoral pact with the Brexit Party.  This media discussion reflected the arguments within Johnson’s own team. Some of his advisers said that it was essential that the deal was done with Farage to ensure that the Brexit Party candidates were withdrawn from Labour/Tory marginals in the north of England and the Midlands to give the Conservatives a free run.  If they did not do so, the Leave vote would be split and Labour would win the seats. 

But other advisers had a different perspective.  They argued that a pact with the Brexit Party would split the Conservatives permanently.  It would alienate what was left of the moderate wing of the parliamentary party and more importantly, in the context of a general election, lose the party a swathe of seats in London and the south of England.  It would be giving a free run to the Liberal Democrats.

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It is now known there were negotiations between the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Eddie Lister and Farage before the latter made his apparently unilateral decision to stand Brexit Party candidates down.  Indeed, Farage himself claims that he was offered a peerage only last week, although he insists that he declined it. 

We can now see which faction won: those who wanted a Tory-Brexit Party pact have got their way.  But it is not quite as they intended. They haven’t succeeded, as yet, in getting Farage to withdraw his candidates in those critical Labour seats in the north and Midlands.  But by agreeing to withdraw candidates in Tory-held seats, he has made it more difficult for the Liberal Democrats to take southern Tory seats. This may not be the pact that its advocates in both parties wanted, but it is still a major boost for Johnson and the Tories.

But actions have consequences.  Moderate Tories can no longer kid themselves that Boris Johnson is really a secret Remainer and a One Nation Tory at heart.  Johnson has done a pact with the devil and he (and those who back him) must pay the price for that. And after his promise to never extend the transition, he has committed the UK to breaking its links with the EU at the end of 2020, trade deal or no trade deal. 

David Gauke’s decision to stand as an independent in Southwest Hertfordshire is one example of how the pact has cost Johnson mainstream support.  After all, Gauke voted for the prime minister’s deal less than a month ago.   

It is too late for other former Conservative MPs to join himself, Dominic Grieve and Ann Milton in standing as independent Conservatives in this election but more may speak out and endorse tactical voting for the Lib Dems as Gauke did this morning.  The long, slow break-up of the Tory Party since 1992 has just accelerated.

Edited by Quentin Peel

Categories: Brexit, UK Politics