Patrick O'Flynn

Nigel Farage risks destroying his own Brexit dream

Nigel Farage risks destroying his own Brexit dream
Text settings

Never knowingly undersold. The slogan of one of our best-loved retailers could equally be applied to Nigel Farage.

Despite poll ratings softer than a collapsing souffle, the Brexit party leader had Britain’s political media exactly where he wanted them today: in a state of feverish excitement about his general election plans.

With the kudos of that Donald Trump radio scoop confirming his status as a great political showman, there was sufficient suspension of disbelief in the air for Nigel to be able to make an offer to Boris Johnson of a “Leave Alliance”. This was predicated on the Prime Minister ditching his painstakingly agreed new Withdrawal Agreement on the grounds that “it isn’t Brexit”.

Such an alliance would, we were told, also see the Tories standing aside in up to 150 Brexit party target seats in return for the Brexit party standing aside elsewhere. Otherwise the Brexit party would be selecting a full slate of candidates throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

Unless too many sycophants have been blowing too much smoke into a certain location for far too long, causing him to totally lose touch with basic political reality, Nigel must know that Boris cannot possibly accept this offer.

To do so would involve the Prime Minister declaring his own deal fraudulent, re-igniting civil war within his newly-united party and losing support among swathes of middle class, business-minded voters in commuter belt seats. All to persuade a party with no MPs and average poll support of 8-10 per cent to call off its dogs – some of which are snapping at Labour heels rather than Tory ones anyway.

The basic idea of a “Leave Alliance” between the Tories and the Brexit party is daft. The Conservatives are basing their appeal for Leave votes on an “oven-ready” agreement to take us out of the EU so long as they are returned with a Commons majority. The Brexit party is seeking to convince voters that such a departure would not amount to Brexit at all and yet has no realistic route to delivering its own purist, no-deal Brexit.

Farage said at his launch that his party would be sending a leaflet to every address in the country to set out the case against the Prime Minister’s deal and that he expected the climate of opinion on this matter to shift against the Tories as the campaign went on.

He also claimed that it would be easier for the Brexit party to win seats at this election than it was for Ukip in 2015, when it secured almost 13 per cent of the popular vote but only one seat because there were now many more three and four-way marginals.

I won't be alone in thinking both of those are unlikely. Polling shows that not only do a large majority of Leave voters back the Boris deal, but so do most Brexit party supporters. A leaflet is unlikely to change that.

And in 2015, Ukip was the only party available to support for people wishing to register a pro-leave vote; now there are two. In fact, the Brexit party’s current poll ratings are more akin to those of Ukip at the start of the 2017 general election campaign, during which it was squeezed mercilessly. It set out on ratings of 10 per cent; by election date, it won only two per cent vote share.

Even while Nigel Farage was talking, a new poll came out giving the Tories a four-point bounce to 40 per cent and showing the Brexit party down two points to nine per cent. This is the second poll in a row to record a big uptick for the Tories and a slump for the Farage outfit.

It may well be that Farage can procure further helpful (to him) interventions from president Trump pressing the case for his Leave Alliance concept. It may well also be that pro-Remain media decide to give the Brexit party lots of coverage in a desperate bid to peel Leaver votes away from Johnson. Brexit party MEP Claire Fox is certainly a first-class communicator with an appeal to centre-left voters.

But the basic laws of political gravity will still apply. Only two people can conceivably emerge from this contest as prime minister and Nigel Farage is not one of them. In fact, he has no more chance than does Jo Swinson, whose own pretensions in that direction were comically demolished by Andrew Neil on live TV the other night.

Only one party – the Conservative party – has a realistic offer for removing the UK from the EU any time soon, in fact any time before the fourth anniversary of the EU referendum next June. Farage's offer, oddly like Corbyn's, is to continue on a path of trench warfare almost without end and with no guarantee of success.

Without an astonishing level of self-belief, Nigel Farage would never have been able to make any impression on British politics. But he has won the European parliamentary elections with two different insurgent parties – guaranteeing the EU referendum with the first victory and then saving Brexit with the second.

Plenty of people are now throwing the accusation towards him that he is risking becoming the figure who destroys his own dream by allowing Remainers to win this general election. I doubt that is how things will go. But I do think the most likely outcome is that he will suffer a far worse result than Ukip achieved in 2015 and that his party won’t come even close to winning any seats at all.