Nigel Farage’s announcement that the Brexit Party will not contest 317 seats won by the Conservatives in the 2017 General Election is a welcome relief for many Tories. Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the former UKIP leader’s decision, claiming it is a ‘recognition that there is only one way to get Brexit done, and that is to vote Conservative.’
Political academic Matthew Goodwin tweeted that it is ‘silly to suggest this does not matter. A lot of motivated reasoning today.’ He added that 35 of the 50 smallest Conservative majorities are in Leave seats. These include former Conservative MP Anna Soubry’s constituency in Broxtowe, where the Tories only won with a slim majority of 863.
Other Leave constituencies where the Brexit Party could have posed a significant threat include Worcester, where former Brexit Minister Robin Walker retained the seat with a 2,490 majority two years ago.
In Hastings and Rye, another Leave seat, former Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd claimed victory with a thin majority of 346. By withdrawing Brexit Party candidates from these seats, Farage has increased the Tories’ chances of retaining them in December.
For those hoping that Britain leaves the EU entirely with a deal in December 2020, Farage has made the right decision. He has recognised that the Brexit Party can cause significant damage to Boris Johnson’s chances of entering 10 Downing Street with a majority. It appears that the Brexit Party leader was offered a peerage in order to stand aside, but he rejected it. This shows that he cares more about his 22-year campaign to ensure the UK leaves the EU than his ego, which Sun columnist and Farage’s close friend Leo McKinstry said blinded his original decision to contest all 650 constituencies.
The former UKIP leader has also realised that Boris’s deal is the best way of ensuring that Britain can achieve a Canada-style free trade agreement, something Farage has been promoting since Vote Leave won the EU Referendum over three years ago. He also accepted that the Prime Minister has no intention of extending the transition period beyond December 2020.
Last week, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens announced that they agreed a pact to not contest certain constituencies where either party has a strong chance of winning in order to return a Remain alliance to Parliament that can thwart Brexit. It was inevitable that those on the centre-right would have to reach a similar agreement.
However, the Tories should not become overly optimistic. The Economist produced a piece analysing Labour MP Vernon Coaker’s seat of Gedling, a constituency both the Tories and the Brexit Party are contesting. He told the publication that Brexit voters in his constituency are more likely to vote for Farage’s party over the Conservatives. In seats like this, a split vote could damage the Tories’ chances of gaining a substantial majority.
The Liberal Democrats and Labour have already used this pact to their advantage. Corbyn has accused Boris and Farage of a ‘Trump alliance’ that would lead to ‘Thatcherism on steroids.’ Liberal Democrat deputy leader Ed Davey said the Conservatives and the Brexit Party are ‘now one and the same.’ In seats like Cheltenham, which the Liberal Democrats are desperate to gain from the Conservatives, this could push Tory Remainers towards Swinson’s party and cost the Tories this constituency.
The Brexit Party are also standing in SNP seats like Perth and North Perthshire. In 2015, UKIP took 1,110 votes there and prevented the Conservatives from gaining it. Farage’s current party could do the same again.
The Conservatives are right to feel more optimistic since Farage made his announcement, but because the Brexit Party are not standing aside altogether, a majority is not guaranteed yet.