In verbal ding dongs Nigel Farage usually gives as good as he gets. But he has been oddly restrained in his response to the Tories ruling out any kind of electoral pact with him on the grounds that he is not a ‘fit and proper person’.
On the Andrew Neil show last night, Farage was strikingly emollient. He said that he didn’t want any role in government in exchange for a pact and downplayed the criticism of him, saying it was just a ‘junior press officer’ sounding off. He argued that a pact was needed because if there was a Labour-led government ‘we’re not going to get a meaningful Brexit of any kind at all’. On this point, I think Farage is right. As I say in the magazine this week, if the Tories cannot form a government after the next election, it is hard to believe that Brexit will ever happen. Farage declared that ‘we can end all of this by having a non-aggression pact and getting Boris Johnson back with a clear majority.’
Many Tories are suspicious of Farage’s motives. They suspect that he would quite like this whole Brexit drama to drag on because of the relevance it gives him. But Farage’s refusal to rise to the bait suggests that he might be more serious about a pact than the Tories think. I suspect that the Tories will continue to reject the idea, they remain confident that they can squeeze the Brexit party down in a campaign by making the election a choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn and stressing their ‘vote Boris get Brexit, vote anyone else get Corbyn’.
If the Brexit Party remains at double digits in the polls, there’ll be more calls for the Tories to do some kind of deal with Farage. Yet, it is hard to imagine Boris Johnson, who boasted this week that he was the ‘most liberal Conservative PM’ in decades coming to any kind of formal agreement with Farage.