Was a Tory-Brexit Party Pact Ever the Right Thing to do?
When Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July, he pledged to take Britain out of the EU by October 31st with or without a deal. However, it proved difficult to deliver this promise when parliamentary arithmetic made a no-deal Brexit impossible. This is why the Prime Minister was forced to apologise on a Sky News interview last weekend for failing to fulfil his target. Now that the country faces the most unpredictable general election in recent times, Boris has taken a huge gamble. He must hope that most of the electorate sympathises with his desperate circumstances and awards him with the majority he needs to pass his Withdrawal Agreement.
Before July, the Brexit Party stormed the European Parliament election by winning 29 out of 72 of the UK’s seats. They also cost the Conservatives the Brecon and Peterborough by-elections. The University of Liverpool’s Andrew Russell suggested that if this performance was repeated during a Westminster election, the party could win Leave-backing areas like Stoke-on-Trent and Sunderland. Strathclyde University’s Professor John Curtice also warned that Nigel Farage’s party could split the centre-right vote. Farage was perceived as a threat to the Conservative vote and a pact between the Brexit Party and the Tories made sense before September.
During the summer, EU leaders were refusing to budge on the Irish backstop and they were adamant Britain had to leave by October 31st. Even French President Emmanuel Macron became so irritated with Brexit that he was prepared to veto an extension to the EU’s October deadline. This made a no-deal Brexit, something both Boris and Farage were united on, seem likely in August. This is why MPs rushed to pass legislation like the Benn Act that forced the Prime Minister to ask for a Brexit delay if he failed to agree a deal with Brussels. This possible outcome also triggered the Tory leader to prorogue Parliament and force an early election in October. If Parliament approved of an autumn election, Farage and Boris should have agreed to a pact immediately.
Since then, the Prime Minister managed to negotiate a deal with the EU, something many doubted he could do. This deal is better than Theresa May’s because it removes the Irish backstop and replaces it with a Protocol that prevents a hard border. It also keeps Northern Ireland in the UK’s customs territory. From January 1st 2021, Britain can sign trade deals with other nations. Finally, Stormont can quit the Protocol any time it wants. This agreement has now become the main dividing line between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party. With Boris refusing to ditch it for a pact with Farage, an alliance between their respective parties is no longer necessary.
The Prime Minister’s decision carries some risks. A poll conducted by the Daily Mirror on November 2nd found the Brexit Party on 11 per cent. If they maintain this poll rating, Farage could cause the Conservatives to lose certain Leave heartlands. But in seats the Tories need to retain to win a majority, like Cheltenham where the Liberal Democrats have a strong presence, a Farage-Boris pact could cost the Tories these vulnerable marginal seats where no-deal is viewed as toxic.
A Tory majority is possible. If Boris can lead a positive campaign about what he wants to achieve post-Brexit, he can win that coalition of voters he needs to gain a majority. He also stated he will not be retreating from a leadership debate, something May did in 2017. The latest Opinium/Observer poll provides the Conservatives with a 16-point lead over Labour, which will give Boris a comfortable majority. This proves there is all to play for in this election.