Tuesday 12 November 2019 7:27 AM UTC
HARTLEPOOL Nov 12: Eurosceptic leader Nigel Farage announced Monday that his Brexit Party would not challenge seats held by the governing Conservatives at next month’s election, in a potential boost for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Farage, a leading force behind the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union, was under pressure from within his own party to drop plans to field candidates across Britain to avoid splitting the pro-Brexit vote.
“The Brexit Party will not contest the 317 seats the Conservatives won at the last election,” he said on the campaign trail in Hartlepool, northeast England.
The former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) had earlier promised to field 600 candidates in the December 12 election, unless Johnson agreed to abandon the exit terms he has agreed with Brussels.
Farage said the deal would deliver “Brexit in name only”.
But the prime minister refused and Farage has now given in, noting wryly: “In a sense we now have a Leave alliance, it’s just that we’ve done it unilaterally.”
Instead of challenging Tory held seats, he said: “We will concentrate our efforts on the seats that are held by the Labour party.”
The main opposition Labour party has promised a second referendum on Brexit — a call backed by many smaller parties in the House of Commons.
“I think our action, this announcement today, prevents a second referendum from happening. And that to me, I think right now, is the single most important thing in our country,” Farage said.
But Labour chairman Ian Lavery accused Farage and Johnson of cooking up an alliance that threatened to “sell out our country” and the state-run health service to US drugs firms.
“We urge voters to reject this Thatcherite 1980s tribute act, which would lead to more savage Tory attacks on working class communities,” he said.
“Our NHS (National Health Service) is not for sale.”
Sara Hobolt, a political expert at the London School of Economics, said the decision was a boost for Johnson, tweeting: “This makes a Tory majority much more likely.”
However, Johnson still faces difficulties.
The Conservatives won 317 out of 650 seats at the 2017 general election but they go into next month’s vote defending only 298 after Johnson expelled some MPs and others defected to other parties due to arguments over Brexit.
Even if they manage to keep those 317 seats, it would not be enough to form a majority government.
After 2017, the party was forced to team up with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to stay in power.
Johnson is aiming for Labour-held seats to boost his numbers and in this, will still be up against Farage.
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