It would obviously have been better for the Tories if Nigel Farage had announced that the Brexit party was standing down everywhere. As Katy Balls says, even now, his party is standing in those very Labour held marginals that the Tories need to win a majority. But I still think today’s Brexit party announcement has increased the Tories’ chances of taking these seats.
Why? Because Nigel Farage has provided the Tories with the perfect squeeze message. He has admitted that voting for the Brexit party might stop Brexit from actually happening if it denies Boris Johnson a majority; he has half conceded that the Tory line that a vote for Farage may end up being a vote for Corbyn is right.
This will make it much easier for the Tories to get Brexit party waverers across the line in these seats. I also suspect it will lead to some Brexit party candidates pulling out in these constituencies, or behaving more like paper candidates.
Another important consequence of Farage’s decision to stand down is that he has implicitly accepted that Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is Brexit. He won’t now be in that seven-party debate or on a Question Time special denouncing Boris Johnson’s deal as a sell-out. Instead, his attacks will be concentrated on Labour and the Lib Dems. Again, this will help the Tories in their attempt to consolidate the Leave vote behind them.
Boris Johnson had always argued against a pact with the Brexit party on the grounds that the Tories would lose as much out of the other side of the bath as it gained. In other words, more liberally-minded Tories would not back the party if it was in a formal alliance with the Brexit party. Today’s announcement means the Tories get much of the benefit of a pact but without having to actually enter into one.