Nigel Farage offers Boris Johnson a truce, boosting prospects for Conservatives in Dec 12 election

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage speaks during a general election campaign event in Sedgefield, Britain on Nov 11, 2019.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage speaks during a general election campaign event in Sedgefield, Britain on Nov 11, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (WASHINGTON POST) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's election bid got a boost on Monday (Nov 11) when Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage announced that his insurgent movement would not fight for the 317 seats won by Mr Johnson's Conservative Party in the 2017 election.

This represents serious breathing room for Mr Johnson, whose campaign launch last week for the Dec 12 election was marred by insults against victims of a notorious fire, followed by scrambled apologies and muddled messages about the party being out of touch.

The announcement by Mr Farage that his zealous Brexiteers would not directly engage the Tories on the battlefield means that those voters in half of Britain, whose hearts still hunger to leave the European Union, will not have to decide between a pro-Brexit Conservative candidate and a really, really pro-Brexit Brexit Party candidate.

Now the lines are more clearly drawn.

Conservative Party leaders feared that if Mr Farage made good on his earlier threat to fight for every seat in Parliament, then the pro-Brexit, centre-right and hard-right vote could be split between Tories and Brexit Party.

Such an intramural tussle among those who see themselves as "Leavers" could open the door to gains by "Remainers" and the opposition Labour Party, which takes a kind of fuzzy stance on Brexit, or the Liberal Democrats, who are firmly opposed to leaving the European Union.

Mr Farage, a radio show host and friend of US President Donald Trump, said on Monday that his Brexiteers will not seek parliamentary seats in 317 of the 650 races up for grabs.

"What we will do is concentrate our total effort into all of the seats that are held by the Labour Party, who have completely broken their manifesto in 2017," which supported Brexit, Mr Farage said.

Mr Farage said his efforts now will be to beat Labour and stop those supporting a second referendum on Brexit, a position endorsed by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and other minority parties.

 
 

Mr Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party had its own stumbles launching its campaign.

First, Mr Tom Watson, the moderate deputy leader of the Labour Party, abruptly resigned. Then four ex-Labour lawmakers went public on TV with their charges that Labour was so beset by anti-Semitism - and Mr Corbyn's "radical" positions - that they urged voters to back Johnson for "the good of the country."

Analysts spent Monday adjusting their electoral calculations.

Professor John Curtice,  who teaches politics at the University of Strathclyde and is seen as a kind of survey savant for correctly reading past polling on Brexit, said that, on the whole, "this is good news for Boris, but it's not as good as it looks".

He explained: "Farage is not standing down in seats that Boris needs to gain from Labour."

Mr Johnson needs to top more than 40-plus per cent of the vote to form a majority government - and avoid the perils of a hung Parliament or having to cast his lot again with the one-issue unionists in Northern Ireland.

The Conservative Party is seeking to win over Labour voters who do not necessarily like Mr Johnson or the Tories but who do want to "get Brexit done", as the Prime Minister is urging.

These "Labour Leavers" have been cast as white, mostly male, working class, rugby fans living in the faded industrial towns of the Midlands and North England, who usually support Labour but do not like Mr Corbyn or his party's stance on Brexit.

Elections in Britain usually are not won or lost by the brief campaign season. But there are exceptions. In the 2017 general election, the Conservatives lost a 20-point lead to Mr Corbyn and his youthful, "Momentum" movement.

 
 

In 2017, too, 80 per cent of voters flocked to the two main parties, the Conservatives and the Labour Party. But this election looks much more fragmented, meaning the two main parties are vulnerable on various flanks.

Last week, three of the smaller parties - the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Greens - agreed to a pro-remain alliance, saying they would step aside for each other in 60 seats.

On the Brexit side of the ledger, this may not be the formal alliance that Mr Farage wanted, but it is a pact of sorts.

"We now have a leave alliance; it's just that we've just done it unilaterally," Mr Farage said on Monday. He said that his announcement "prevents a second referendum from happening, and that to me I think right now is the single most important thing in our country."

Mr Johnson said in a statement, "We welcome Nigel Farage's recognition that another gridlocked hung Parliament is the greatest threat to getting Brexit done."

Ms Jo Swinson, leader of the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, tweeted: "The Conservative Party are the Brexit Party now."