Nigel Farage, a man who many believe Brexit wouldn’t have happened without, has declared that his Brexit Party will not field candidates at the UK’s forthcoming election in seats currently held by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.
The announcement came came after weeks of pressure from prominent supporters, who feared that putting up candidates in every seat could split the pro-Brexit vote and work to the advantage of parties that want the UK to remain in the EU.
During a speech in Hartlepool, in the northeast of England, Farage said that the Brexit Party would “concentrate all our efforts” on seats held by the main opposition Labour Party and other, smaller parties. He said that by winning these seats, the Brexit Party would be able to “keep Boris Johnson to his promises” in Parliament.
Just ten days ago, Farage had pledged that his party would contest every seat in Britain unless the Prime Minister abandoned his Brexit deal and entered an electoral pact with him.
So what changed since then?
Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Member of the European Parliament and a long-standing critic of the EU, has always liked to portray himself as a pivotal force in Brexit politics in the UK.
He launched the Brexit party earlier this year when former PM Theresa May’s plan to leave the EU was first showing signs of falling apart. It made a huge impact at the European elections, finishing in first place in the UK, leaving the ruling Conservatives languishing in fifth.
But the British political landscape has shifted considerably. Theresa May was a late convert to the Brexit cause, but Johnson has always appeared the truer believer, leading the successful 2016 campaign to leave the EU. Since Johnson became Prime Minister, Farage’s Brexit crown has lost some of its luster. Plus, Johnson has more experience in office and is, frankly, more famous and popular than Farage.
Some supporters of Farage realized this. They felt that if his party fielded a full slate of candidates, the Brexit vote would be diluted, parties supporting a second referendum could sneak past, and Brexit could be lost.
At the end of October, CNN was leaked messages sent to Brexit Party candidates and campaigners, instructing them to go silent on social media as the party made up its mind as to how it would approach the election.
In recent days he has come under intense public pressure, too.The Brexit-supporting Daily Mail newspaper ran a front-page story encouraging him to back down. Even Arron Banks, a businessman who has worked with and funded Farage’s political goals for years, publicly said that Farage should not put Brexit at risk.
Brexit Party sources described to CNN that there has been a divide between the party leadership and candidates who didn’t want to campaign against Conservatives that were committed to delivering Brexit. Some party members and activists want Farage to go further still, and not stand in seats where pro-Brexit Conservatives could take seats from the Labour Party.
The Conservatives would also like to see this happen. They need to win a lot of seats from Labour if they are to have a majority on December 12. It’s not immediately clear that Farage’s announcement today helps the Conservatives as much as it saves the Brexit Party some embarrassment. Johnson responded to Farage’s announcement on Monday by saying that he had “absolutely not” done a deal with Farage.
In his speech, Farage said that the Brexit Party would “take the fight” to “the Labour Party and the rest of the remainer parties”. However, he didn’t specify exactly how many candidates he would field. It’s hard to believe he won’t face further pressure to not stand in Labour-held marginals.
And given Monday’s climbdown, which, however Farage wants to paint it, is a serious and possibly embarrassing concession, there’s every possibility that more could be on the way for the self-appointed Mr Brexit.