The Brexit Party launched its effective general election campaign today, with what it hopes will be a simple ultimatum for the Conservatives: commit to no deal and we’ll work with you, or else “we’ll fight you in every single seat” and cost you electoral support.
The event at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster this morning was billed as an unveiling of over 400 prospective parliamentary candidates, accompanied by some new policy announcements. Instead, leader Nigel Farage stuck to one simple message: that the Brexit Party is open to agreeing a non-aggression pact with the Conservatives, as long as they commit to delivering no deal. Otherwise, the party intends to stand candidates in all constituencies, with an implied threat that it will drain away Tory votes, and possibly some seats.
It’s a bold attempt to stay relevant as the Conservatives encroach on Leave-voting territory with a pre-election campaign that explicitly targets everyone who voted Leave, lays the groundwork for a “people vs parliament” election, and borrows from the Leave campaign by firmly positioning themselves as the side for “the people”.
With a cabinet of Brexiteers, and a firm “do or die” message, Boris Johnson and his team are hoping to win the support even of Leavers who would not traditionally vote Conservative, and are making policy decisions (such as the recent promise of £1.8bn to the NHS) specifically to target Leave seats. If that weren’t enough to encroach on Farage’s territory, Johnson now seems to have usurped Farage as the favourite British politician of Donald Trump.
For all of the above reasons, the Brexit Party’s offer of an electoral pact with the Conservatives is unlikely to be accepted. For all that Farage said an electoral coalition between the two would be “unstoppable”, it’s unclear whether Johnson would need Farage’s help to scoop up votes from Leavers. Indeed, during the press conference, Farage was forced to concede that he hasn’t even discussed it with senior Conservatives. Just as the Ukip vote fell away after Leave won in the referendum, the Conservative gamble is that there will be no strong support for the Brexit Party now that the Tories have a clear no-deal default position.
Today’s launch signals the Brexit Party’s determination to keep up the pressure on Johnson and his cabinet, amid signs from the G7 summit that Johnson could possibly end up getting a last-minute deal with the EU after all. Brexit Party purists will settle for no less than no deal, and will hope that their position is a reminder to Johnson that there is an electoral cost to moving away from that approach.