Rather than split the Tory-inclined Leave vote across Britain, Nigel Farage has decided just to do it in half of the seats he originally threatened. So how can Boris Johnson’s allies resist seizing on his partial retreat to ask him to go further?
The Brexit Party leader has not taken this kindly, complaining to the BBC that he had "just gifted the Conservative Party nearly two dozen seats, and I did it believe I believe in Leave". The Tories’ failure to return the favour by pulling out of seats he might hope to take showed "it’s about them as a party, not delivering Brexit".
Mr Farage’s bitterness is understandable, as he has had to accept far less than what he initially demanded in order to back down. He began his stand-off by demanding that Mr Johnson drop his deal outright, but was rebuffed by the Prime Minister clinging onto his "oven-ready" agreement. Then he asked just for the political declaration to "fundamentally change" so that the clause allowing for the transition to go on beyond December 2020 was removed and it was made clear that the UK would pursue a free trade agreement without any alignment.
But the Brexit Party leader had to content himself with Mr Johnson explaining that his deal allowed him to pursue a Canada-style FTA without getting tied in politically – something that has been the case from the moment his deal was hammered out – and that he did still not want to extend the transition – a stance Number 10 has already made clear. While Mr Farage tried to chalk it up in today’s Telegraph as a "direct challenge to Barnier, requiring a change to the political declaration before parliamentary ratification", Mr Johnson did not quite say that. Instead of promising to remove the text setting out how the transition could be extended, he had simply indicated his opposition to extending it further, in the same way he used to inveigh against the idea of extending Article 50 beyond October 31.
Mr Farage’s decision not to threaten any Tory-held seats has outraged some Brexit Party members, who have pointed out that they will be among half of the electorate who will be unable to vote for someone who wants as clean a break as they do.
I will be one of millions of people who will not vote at all in the General Election. That breaks my heart. I have voted in every election since I was 18 and been involved in politics for over a decade. And I have been disenfranchised by my own party.
— Alexandra Phillips MEP (@BrexitAlex) November 12, 2019
More significantly for this election, given the Brexit Party leader’s hope of taking some seats off Labour, his concession has been seized on by Jeremy Corbyn.
The Labour leader has already sought seeking to neutralise the Brexit Party’s potential to peel off disgruntled Eurosceptic voters who would never back the Tories by loudly lumping them together with the Tories.
"I think what we have before us is an alliance between Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson," he declared today at a rally in Blackpool. His line will be greatly helped by the fact that the President of the United States himself suggested to Mr Farage on his LBC talk-show that he work with the Prime Minister to forge an "unstoppable" Leave alliance.
Even though the alliance is for Mr Farage what Emma Watson would call a “self-partnered” arrangement, that is good enough for the Left, which has been merrily pushing the idea that he is in cahoots with the Tories.
Farage is not on the side of working people. We cannot give him the power to erode our rights.
A vote for the Brexit Party is a vote for the Tories.@GMB_Unionpic.twitter.com/PntsL11oMl
— Steve Reed (@SteveReedMP) November 12, 2019
Expect to hear a lot more talk like from Mr Corbyn and his comrades. The Opposition has deployed such rhetoric before against Mr Farage in his Ukip days, blunting his efforts to win any seats in Labour’s northern heartlands by painting him and his colleagues as Tories in pinstripe and emphasising to voters his blunt view of the NHS.
The Brexit Party’s sliding poll rating, with it barely breaking 10 per cent these days, forced Mr Farage to "put country before party" by pulling his troops out of direct confrontation with the Tories. For now, he hopes to save face by coming after Labour and winning a few seats. But his potential to do so may have been blunted by allowing Jeremy Corbyn to dismiss Brexit Party candidates as mere Turquoise Tories.
Mr Farage’s retreat from Tory-held seats shows that he is prepared to swallow Mr Johnson’s deal. If he felt so strongly opposed to it, he would have no trouble sticking to his guns and fielding all 600 candidates, safe in the belief that it would be better to risk Brexit being delayed, or not happening at all, if it meant Brexit could be avoided under what he used to see as "dreadful" terms negotiated by Mr Johnson.
But by backing down from fighting the Tories, Mr Farage may have given the Labour leader the defence he needs to help keep his remaining Brexit Party candidates at bay.