There’s been much speculation this week about how the Brexit party will approach the incoming general election. Varying reports suggested Nigel Farage’s party could choose to target anything from 20 to 100 seats. However, speaking in Westminster this morning, Farage made clear that he had bigger ambitions. The Brexit party leader said that unless Boris Johnson changed his Brexit position, his party would stand candidates in every seat in England, Wales and Scotland:
‘We will contest every single seat in England, Scotland and Wales. Please don’t doubt that we are ready. Do not underestimate our determination or organisation.’
Farage said that his party would change tack if the Tories changed their Brexit position from Boris Johnson’s proposed deal to a plan to go for a different type of free trade agreement. The Brexit party leader pointed to Donald Trump’s comments to him last night in which the US president said that he was worried Johnson’s proposed deal would mean a substantial UK/US deal would not be possible.
So where does this leave any election pact? It is highly unlikely that the Tories will take Farage up on his offer. Farage said the Tories had until 14 November to decide and if they did change their Brexit position, the two parties could start to divvy up seats.
The problem is the Tories see little benefit to standing down in any seats that voted heavily to Leave. It was clear from both Farage and his Brexit party colleague Claire Fox’s comments at the event that they think the party is placed to do well in the North East and South Wales. The Tories also think they could do well in these areas. So even putting aside the fact Johnson has no desire to change his Brexit position, there is little incentive for the Conservatives to come to an arrangement which would see them stand aside.
That’s not to say the Brexit party doesn’t present a significant challenge to the Tories. It’s clear from the two most recent by-elections that the party can eat into the Tory vote share and allow the opposition party to take the seat.
But the working assumption in No. 10 and within Cabinet has been that the Brexit party will stand candidates in key seats the Tories need to win. The strategy for dealing with this has been to try and bring down Brexit party support by uniting the Leave vote. It follows that today’s announcement doesn’t change much when it comes to the Conservative party’s electoral strategy.