The Conservatives must fight any snap election without a pact with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, leading Eurosceptic Steve Baker has said.
The chairman of the European Research Group – who has repeatedly called for Boris Johnson to strike a deal with the Brexit Party – told the New Statesman that the parties would be unable to agree a pact as long as Farage demanded the Tories run on a no-deal platform.
“A pre-Brexit pact with the Brexit Party won’t happen all the time Nigel Farage insists the Conservatives pursue no deal, which won’t happen,” Baker told the NS. “Boris will have to win without any arrangement.”
The prime minister has always ruled out a pact with Farage, which would be unacceptable to a majority of Conservative MPs. Indeed, earlier this month Baker warned Richard Tice, the Brexit Party chairman, that his parliamentary colleagues would refuse to stand on a no-deal manifesto.
Hardline Eurosceptics like Baker, however, until now took the opposite view. They believed that Brexit Party candidates would be best placed to win votes from Labour in Leave constituencies in the English north and midlands, and that Conservative candidates in other marginals might struggle to win unless Farage’s candidates stood down in their favour.
In September, Baker warned that the Tories risked losing power altogether if they attempted to fight a pre-Brexit election without a pact. “If we have an election before we have left the European Union and the Brexit Party think that we’re heading in a direction which does not deliver our independence from the EU then they will stand candidates virtually everywhere and the result will be, as per Peterborough and in Wales, they will result in a Lib/Lab Remain coalition. We will lose Brexit,” he said.
That he has concluded that such an arrangement is now impossible reflects just how profoundly the Tory debate on Brexit has shifted since Boris Johnson successfully renegotiated the withdrawal agreement. The prime minister has accomplished something that always eluded Theresa May: unanimous support among Conservative MPs for his Brexit deal.
It also complicates the task ahead for Farage. His party is already split on Johnson’s deal. Without a pact, its chances of winning even a single MP go from slim to negligible. Johnson will likely find their vote much easier to squeeze: a vote for Farage is a vote for Corbyn, and more delay. And, with even Baker opposed, they will find that the entire Conservative Party is united behind that message.