Irish backstop –
The Brexit Party supporters who queued to see Nigel Farage at the Grand Hotel in Hartlepool thought they were coming to a campaign rally. Instead, they saw an unusually subdued Farage announce that he was standing down more than half of the party’s candidates and abandoning his opposition to Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.
Farage spent the first 10 minutes of his 15-minute statement describing the tortuous mental path that led him to capitulate to the Conservatives. When the audience applauded his decision to contest only those seats held by Labour and other opposition parties, he could not conceal his relief.
“I’m pleased you like it. It’s not easy,” he said.
Farage’s move will certainly help the Conservatives, particularly in southern English seats where splitting the Leave vote threatened to allow the resurgent Liberal Democrats to win. But the Brexit Party will still be contesting seats in the central battleground of the midlands and the north of England, where the Conservatives need to win dozens of Labour-held seats.
The Brexit Party took twice as many votes from the Conservatives as from Labour in the European Parliament elections this year. But the impact of a three-way contest in Leave-voting marginals is unpredictable and is likely to vary seat by seat.
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Johnson welcomed Farage’s announcement, which he said was not the product of any negotiation between the two parties. But Farage pointed to a video message on Sunday night in which Johnson ruled out extending the post-Brexit transition beyond December 2020 as crucial in influencing his decision.
In the video, Johnson went on to define the limits of the trade deal he would seek, apparently rejecting the “level playing field” conditions that the EU says it will insist upon for a high level of access to its market.
“I want to stress that that will be a straightforward free trade agreement, not based on any kind of political alignment. There’s no need for that at all. We can have a free trade agreement on the model of a super Canada-plus arrangement,” he said.
Pollsters were initially playing down the likely impact of the Brexit Party’s move for the outcome of the election because it is limited to Conservative-held seats. But Farage’s admission that a vote for the Brexit Party in the south of England could help to usher in a pro-Remain government will make some Leave voters ask why the same reasoning should not apply in the north of the country too.
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