Nigel Farage has done more than any other politician to advance British independence from Brussels.
The EU referendum would never have happened without him, nor would the Leave victory have been possible.
Yet now, through his ill-judged election campaign against the Tories, Farage is in danger of wrecking the very cause he has battled for so tirelessly throughout his career.
In a bizarre twist, one of the chief architects of Brexit – and one of the most entertaining men I’ve ever had lunch with – might end up a crucial ally of the Remainers.
In fielding 600 Brexit Party candidates in the election, Farage is making a terrible mistake – one that seems to be borne of vanity about his own influence and resentment at Boris’s success in reaching a deal against the odds.
If Farage truly wants Brexit to be delivered, he would abandon this self-destructive policy and throw his weight behind the Tories – rather than asking them to ditch the deal it’s taken them years to achieve.
‘Ego has got the better of him’
Farage’s demand amounts to a form of political blackmail.
He knows Boris could never give in, without shattering his own authority, plunging his party into civil war and destroying his entire Brexit strategy.
But if Farage carries out his threat to put up candidates in almost every seat, then there is a genuine risk that the Leave vote will be badly split, paving the way to a hung Parliament and more Brexit chaos.
In the grimmest scenario, a Remainer-dominated rabble led by Jeremy Corbyn could seize power and ditch Brexit altogether.
This potential act of sabotage has brought despair to many of the most prominent anti-EU campaigners.
Tory MP Steve Baker of the European Research Group warns that Farage could become “the man who threw away Brexit” by “dogmatically pursuing purity”, while Mark Francois, another ERG Conservative, says that Farage’s “ego has got the better of him.”
The anger has spread to his own movement. One Brexit Party candidate, Paul Brothwood in Dudley South, has already stood down and endorsed the Tories, saying that Farage’s policy could lead to the election of a Liberal Democrat – Labour coalition.
Even Farage’s biggest backer, the millionaire Arron Banks, disapproves of his policy, expressing fears about divisions in the Brexit vote.
A terrible mistake
As a lifelong Eurosceptic, I share those concerns myself. Because of my beliefs, I have always been a supporter of Farage, admiring both his determination to secure British freedom and his remarkable powers of persuasion.
I have even got to know him personally. We once planned to write a book together, the planning for which involved several lengthy, well-lubricated lunches.
Though the project never materialised, I still have the happy, somewhat blurred memories of those occasions.
Now, even I struggle to understand Farage’s behaviour. He claims Boris’s agreement is “appalling”, “not Brexit” and “virtually worse than staying where we are.”
This is nonsense. The new deal is far better than Theresa May’s flawed settlement, which risked trapping Britain permanently in the EU Customs Union.
Boris’s deal ‘everything Leavers want’
In contrast, Boris’s deal delivers the fundamental goals of Brexit, including an end to EU jurisdiction and the restoration of our own control over trade, laws, borders, farming and money.
That is why the Eurosceptics like the ERG are supporting the deal so strongly.
“We would have everything we Leavers wanted,” says Douglas Carswell, the former UKIP MP.
This prize will be lost if the Leave vote is now fractured, with Farage’s Brexit Party siphoning off support from the Tories.
Farage has argued that such fears are exaggerated, claiming that his party’s candidates will cause more damage to Labour in its traditional heartlands of the North and the Midlands.
To support his case, he maintains that in the 2015 General Election UKIP stood candidates everywhere, but their main impact was to draw votes away from Labour and thereby allow David Cameron’s Tories to win an unexpected overall majority.
But the situation in 2015 was completely different.
UKIP was the only anti-EU, pro-leave party then, with the Tories still committed to Brussels membership. Today the picture is transformed, thanks to Boris’s resolute focus on honouring the referendum result.
It is Farage’s party that could end up the Brexit blocker. That is not mere theorising.
A look at the recent Peterborough by-election highlights the consequences of a split Leave vote.
In the contest, there was a dramatic swing of 17 per cent against Labour, but Corbyn’s candidate Lisa Forbes still scraped home because her Leave opponents were divided.
Her total of 10,500 votes was just 700 more than the Brexit Party, with the Tories in third place on 7,243.
The combined vote share of Brexit and the Conservatives was over 50 per cent, but Labour emerged victories on just 31 per cent.
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If that experience were to be repeated across the country at the General Election, it would be a disaster for Brexit.
So Farage should give up this exercise in self-harm to the cause he loves.
The intransigence has to end.
Instead of undermining the Tories, Farage should be fighting alongside Boris to deliver independence – and voters should make no mistake.
Any vote for the Brexit Party risks pushing Corbyn one step closer to Downing Street.