The Brexit party’s poll lead is scary for the Tories – but worse for Remainers

As much as Brexiteers are convinced of the contrary, the fact remains that Conservative Party is committed to leaving the European Union.

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Time to start making plans for Nigel? That’s the conclusion many have drawn from the latest in a series of polls to suggest the former Ukip leader’s new outfit, the Brexit party, is heading for victory in next month’s European Parliament elections. 

The surveys published in this morning’s papers make grim reading for the Conservatives in particular and will only exacerbate the existing worries of MPs and the main parties in general. In The Times, YouGov has the Brexit party on 23 per cent – up from 15 last week. Labour are on 22, and the Tories on 17. A separate poll from YouGov yesterday had Team Farage at 27 per cent, five points clear of Labour. 

The Telegraph, meanwhile, carries a ComRes poll of general election voting intention that sees the Tories collapse to just 23 per cent – the sort of number not seen since the height of Iain Duncan Smith’s Strepsil addiction – with Labour on 33 and the Brexit party on 14.

Regular readers will know that any single poll should be read with a liberal dollop of scepticism and the usual caveats of course apply. Politically, though, it’s the impressionistic reading that matters. Eurosceptic Tories believe these sorts of numbers vindicate their obstructionism; jittery Labour types fear the inchoate anger towards Westminster they report from the doorstep has found an electoral outlet; and Farage is already using these numbers to sell himself as the undisputed frontrunner.

Should the Conservatives fail to repair their fractured coalition by 23 May, there is every chance that Farage could repeat the coup he pulled off in 2014, when Ukip won a plurality of MEPs. Such a result would not only be deeply embarrassing for Theresa May but destabilising too. Yet in one very significance sense, others have more to lose from that outcome. 

As much as Brexiteers are convinced of the contrary, the fact remains that Conservative Party is committed to leaving the European Union. As is obvious from these numbers, the stakes are so high as to be existential. That commitment will endure whoever its next leader is. The electoral sine qua non of outfits like the Brexit party and Ukip is the perception that the Tories are ratting on the project, but their combined popularity only illustrates the extent that they wouldn’t survive doing so.

No matter how much political capital Farage makes from suggesting otherwise, the reality is that any Tory MEPs elected next month can be added to what could well be a hefty pro-Brexit pile (and perhaps a majority). That should give Remainers breezily dismissing the need for coordination food for thought. The D’Hondt system penalises smaller parties in any case, and splitting the pro-EU vote three ways could jeopardise their ultimate political aim: keeping the UK in the EU. 

Remainers have long spoken of these elections as a de facto second referendum but seem to have given little thought as to how to win it. Should they fail, the case for a real re-run of 2016 will be much weaker. No matter how humiliating the result, the Tories will still have the political means and motive to facilitate Brexit. It isn’t immediately clear that the Lib Dems, Greens and the artists formerly known as TIG will be able to say the same for stopping it.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.