Anthony Wells, director of political research at YouGov, says: “Nigel Farage is sending a message that you can trust Boris Johnson to deliver Brexit”.
This is untrue. Farage is not sending that message at all. Yesterday he repeated that “the direction we are going in is simply not Brexit”. He has not retreated from his opinion that the Johnson deal is a trap for the UK which, after it has left the EU will remain remain bound to it by destructive ties.
Although Farage said he was encouraged by Johnson’s pledge that he would not seek an extension to the transition stage and would conclude a deal by the end of 2020, he made clear that he didn’t necessarily believe it. He said he had balanced the risk that Johnson would betray this pledge against the risk that the Brexit party would split the Tory vote and enable a hung parliament and second referendum.
In other words, he has decided that the risk of that is so great, and the consequences so calamitous, he has no option but to beat at least a partial retreat. But he still wants the Brexit party to be able to gain enough of a presence in the next parliament to hold Johnson’s feet to the fire – precisely because he believes Johnson’s deal will not deliver the UK’s freedom from EU ties.
Farage has acknowledged the dilemma facing every voter who supports a proper, clean Brexit but wants to prevent the catastrophe for the country that a government led by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party would bring about – the fear that has already caused much support for the Brexit party to fall away.
The calculation embodied in Farage’s retreat, and which must be made constituency by constituency, is to avoid above all returning a Labour or LibDem MP. If there is a minimal or no risk of that happening, the most important thing is to keep Boris Johnson honest – and the way to do that is to vote for the Brexit party candidate.
Of course, it’s possible that the Brexit party will return no MPs at all. In which case, if Johnson gets a workable majority clean-break Brexiteers will be full of fear.
For Johnson’s pledge not to extend the transition period is highly dubious. As pointed out previously here, any request for an extension to the transition has to be made by July 1. There’s next to no chance that the free trade deal with the EU will be concluded by then, nor by the end of next year. If negotiations have not concluded by the end of 2020 and Johnson sticks to his pledge, that means the UK will leave with no deal.
Anyone believe Johnson will do that? Exactly. If he keeps to his statement that he will wrap up the FTA by the end if next year, it’s much more likely that he will do so on terms that keep Britain in some areas subservient to the EU and therefore at a disadvantage in any trade deals with the rest of the world – in accordance with the terms of the political declaration.
This is the dilemma facing all clean-break Brexiteer voters – and which has now so painfully trapped the man who has done more than anyone to bring about the Brexit vote and the desperate struggle for the UK’s freedom to govern itself again.
Melanie Phillips is a British journalist, broadcaster and author - you can follow her work on her website HERE.