Nigel Farage has said the Brexit party will not field any candidates against the Conservatives in the 317 seats they won at the last general election, after Boris Johnson committed to leaving the EU by 2020 and pursuing a Canada-style trade deal.
Farage said his party’s climbdown came after months of trying to create a leave alliance with the Tories, but he felt it was time to put the country before his party and make a “unilateral” move. He will announce on Friday in which seats the Brexit party is standing. Speculation continues over where the party will stand but it is not expected to run in Northern Ireland or parts of Scotland. As he spelled out his general election strategy at a rally in Hartlepool, which voted 70% to leave the EU, Farage said he had concluded that if the Brexit party had stood a candidate in every seat it could split the vote and usher in dozens of Liberal Democrat MPs and, in turn, create the circumstances for a second referendum. He said:
The Brexit party will not contest the 317 seats the Conservatives won at the last election. We will concentrate our total effort into all the seats that are held by the Labour party, who have completely broken their manifesto pledge in 2017 to respect the result of the referendum, and we will also take on the rest of the remainer parties. We will stand up and fight them all.
He said this strategy was reliant on Johnson sticking to his promises on delivering Brexit, and getting Brexit party MPs into parliament to keep the pressure on him.
We are going to keep saying: remember you told us we were leaving at the end of 2020. Remember you told us we’re not going to have political alignment. He will know, just as Mrs May’s vote disappeared in the European elections of this year, the same will happen again if a British prime minister breaks firm commitments and promises made to the British people.
Farage said he had been reassured after Johnson said he would not accept an extension of the transition period for Britain leaving the EU beyond the end of 2020. The prime minister has also said he will negotiate a super Canada-plus trade deal with no political alignment, which is closer to what leave voters want. Farage, who is not standing for election himself, said he had been offered a peerage by the government on Friday but turned it down. Speculation will continue as to what he or his party will get out of the decision to stand down parliamentary candidates. Farage’s announcement lifted sterling on the foreign exchange markets. The pound hit a six-month high against the euro, at €1.168. Sterling was also up a cent against the US dollar at $1.288. City traders are calculating that a hung parliament is now less likely -although the Brexit party will still be competing in Conservative target seats. Other political parties were quick to criticise the move, with Ian Lavery, the chair of the Labour party, saying Johnson had formed an alliance with Farage and in effect Donald Trump, with whom he has a close relationship. Lavery said:
This is a Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson alliance with Donald Trump to sell out our country and send £500m per week from our NHS to US drugs companies.
Ed Davey, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said:
Nigel Farage standing down shows the Conservatives and the Brexit party are now one and the same. Johnson’s hard-right Brexit takeover of the Tory party has now been endorsed by both Trump and Farage.
Some people in the audience sighed with disappointment when the decision was announced. However, a local supporter called Dave Paul said he trusted Farage’s strategy:
He’s Mr Brexit. We are right behind Nigel.
Alice Burke, from Buckinghamshire, who was in the area and decided to attend the Hartlepool rally, said:
My experience of Nigel is he’s a well thought-through strategist. He’s probably agonised over this decision but he’s got the courage to stand up for what he believes in. I don’t think he looks weak. It’s a well thought-out strategy. He can’t please everybody.
Hartlepool voted 70% leave at the EU referendum and is represented by the Labour MP Mike Hill, who voted in the Commons to block a no-deal Brexit. It is one of the Brexit party’s key targets and the party chair, Richard Tice, has already announced he is running for the seat. Ukip has mounted a strong challenge in this traditional Labour heartland in recent elections. In 2015, Ukip received a 28% share of the vote, compared with 35% for Labour. In 2017, Ukip support dropped to 11% of the vote and fell behind the Conservatives. Hartlepool borough council is run by the Brexit party in coalition with three Conservative councillors. Peter Mandelson held the seat between 1992 and 2004 for Labour.