At the beginning of the month, Nigel Farage intimated that the Brexit Party would contest every constituency in this election in which the Conservative candidate did not publicly renounce Boris Johnson’s deal in favour of a No Deal Brexit if necessary.
It was widely acknowledged that the most likely consequence of this gambit would be another hung Parliament, since the Brexit Party tends to take more votes from the Tories than Labour.
In today’s announcement, made less than a fortnight later, Farage recognised precisely this truth, and now proposes that Brexit Party candidates run only in seats that the Conservatives don’t hold. He himself now warns against a hung Parliament.
In public terms, what has made this shift possible is Johnson’s announcement, heavily briefed by Downing Street yesterday, that “we will not extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020”. The Prime Minister’s offer of a full Brexit, as it were, was a dangled bait for Farage – which the latter has duly taken.
In private terms, what has made the Brexit Party leader change his view has been the recognition, by many of his party’s donors, candidates and activists that another hung Parliament would indeed bring about a second referendum, and the possibility of No Brexit at all.
It would be easy to criticise Farage for not following through the logic of his own statement. For if Brexit Party candidates are likely disproportionately to damage the Conservatives, why not also pull them out of marginal seats in which the Tories are well placed, as well as in “safe” ones?
Some will also be tempted to mock him for putting his trust in Johnson’s new commitment, and claim that it is little more than a fig leaf designed for the Brexit Party leader to retreat behind.
In any event, the party’s candidates and workers in these marginals may now themselves follow the logic of their leader’s statement, and decide to pull out of the election, or at least try to. But this site is inclined neither to carp nor to sneer at Farage’s decision.
For today’s will have been a very difficult decision indeed for the man who made UKIP into an electoral force, then led the Brexit Party to victory in this year’s European elections, and has helped to drive the Leave cause for so long.
It is not like him to agonise aloud over the tactical choices that he faces, and that he did so today said much about his state of mind. On the one hand, there will have been an urge to maximise his own position; on the other, the compulsion to further the cause which he has done perhaps more than any other individual to realise.
One day, the full story will be told of whatever to-and-fro there has indirectly been between Johnson and Farage – and precisely how today’s decision was reached.
For the moment, we await further developments, for one never knows what will happen next with Farage (or with Johnson either). In the meantime, though, one conclusion is obvious – namely, that since a hung Parliament really is perilous for Brexit, pro-Leave voters in marginal seats should follow Farage’s logic, and vote Conservative.