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Nigel Farage claims Brexit vote "three times bigger" if EU referendum held again

The former Ukip leader was responding to Tony Blair's attack on Brexit. 

If the EU referendum was held tomorrow, the margin by which Leave won would be “at least three times bigger,” Nigel Farage has claimed.

The former Ukip leader used his platform at the party’s spring conference to attack Tony Blair. The thrice-elected Labour Prime Minister had earlier that day urged pro-Europeans to campaign for the right of people to change their minds about Brexit.

Farage told Ukip members that it was “remarkable” that Tony Blair has spoken out against Brexit in the press.

“He seems to think we’re going to change our minds.

“He clearly hasn’t grasped that if that referendum was held tomorrow, the margin would be at least three times bigger than it was after June 23.”

He went further in his takedown of Blair, adding: “Blair is yesterday’s man, he’s like the heavyweight world champion who has been retired for a few years but he needs a bout to make some money and he comes back and gets knocked out in the first round."

Party members booed when Blair’s name was mentioned, and applauded Farage’s speech.

Blair, a committed European, has subjected Farage to withering putdowns in the past. In 2005, speaking at the European Parliament, he told Farage: "You sit there with our country's flag. You do not represent our country's interests. This is the year 2005, not 1945."

In his intervention in the Brexit negotiations, he said people voted “without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit”, and had a right to change their minds. 

Meanwhile at the conference, Ukip's Brexit spokesman Gerard Batten declared "Brexit means exit" and claimed that Britain hadn't had a patriotic government since the end of World War II “as far as Europe is concerned”.

Batten called for Britain to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, and "forget Article 50".

He chimed in with Farage's attack on Blair, demanding: “Why can’t Tony Blair leave us in peace and go and live in America on his blood money?"

 

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.