Now Tories must step aside for Nigel Farage and Brexit Party in Labour seats – Patrick Mercer

WELL, Nigel Farage has listened and, whether you think he was merely bowing to the inevitable or whether this was a splendid, strategic piece of brinkmanship, he’s put country before party to save Brexit.

Nigel Farage says the Brexit Party will not field candidates in Tory-held seats.

But let’s just think what that means for Nigel Farage. Almost single-handedly, he created a party which would bludgeon successive Tory governments into letting the British people say exactly what they thought about EU membership.

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Be in no doubt, it was the threat of what Ukip might achieve (remember that two Tory MPs crossed to join Ukip) that forced David Cameron to promise a referendum. And then Cameron – with all his ‘fruitcake’ jibes – was made to look ridiculous when 17.4 million people went against his advice and backed Mr Farage!

Patrick Mercer is a former Conservative MP for Newark. He now backs the Brexit Party.

So, it seemed as if the job was done and Nigel Farage left Ukip to its own devices and stood down. Only, of course, until Brexit was about to be betrayed. Then Mr Farage buckled-to, raised a new party, stormed the European elections and signed Theresa May’s political death warrant in the process.

So, not a bad track record to date until, of course, you come to the current election – which, you can argue has been mainly brought about, once again, by Mr Farage. But, with a deal of sorts squeezed out of Brussels, a potentially powerful Remain coalition circling like vultures and the nation in a palpable state of both revulsion and boredom with the whole Brexit process, our freedom from the EU hangs by a thread.

Nigel Farage on the campaign trail in Hartlepool.

Once more, Nigel Farage was the fulcrum upon which a crisis balanced: if he stood by his mantra that it was No Deal or nothing, the Leave vote would be split, democracy overturned and Jeremy Corbyn might find himself at the helm. It was up to Nigel to scupper or deliver the decision of the majority of the British people.

I know the Brexit Party’s leader quite well and I had a niggling fear that he would never compromise from his increasingly unrealistic demands for No Deal.

But then I saw President Donald Trump, the most powerful man in the world, be pulled like a rabbit from Mr Farage’s hat and suggest, on live radio, that “I’d like to see you and Boris get together, because you would really have some numbers... I wish you two guys could get together”.

Now this was raw power play aimed directly at No 10 and, as soon as I saw it, I suspected that Nigel was playing a sophisticated game. Now we know; Brexit Party candidates will be pulled from the seats the Tories won in 2017 after the PM made clear that there would be no extension of the transition period beyond 2020 and a “fantastic new trade deal agreement with the EU on the Super Canada Plus arrangement”.

Will the Tories now drop candidates to boost the chances of the Brexit Party, led by Nigel Farage, returning MPs at the election?

But it’s still not plain sailing for Boris Johnson. The PM needs seats like Peterborough and Brecon to win the election cleanly. Both are former Tory seats and might have swung back in recent by-elections had the Leave vote not been split by the Brexit Party.

So Mr Farage has shown that he’s both dangerous and reasonable. Whilst the Tories are adamant that no under-the-counter deal has been done, shouldn’t there be some reciprocity? Look at Bassetlaw where the socialist, John Mann, has – deservedly – gone to the House of Lords whilst Labour has high-handedly replaced the candidate selected by the local association with a Corbyn acolyte.

A heavily Leave leaning constituency, the Brexit Party have appointed the excellent Debbie Solomans – a local woman from Nottingham – to represent them. Yet the Tories show no sign of a ceasefire here. It’s highly unlikely that patch will return a Tory, yet Johnson’s nominee will stand and may split the Eurosceptic vote so badly that Labour slips back in.

The trouble with a deal with the Tories is that it’s impossible to trust them – remember Theresa May’s promise of no post-referendum election or Boris Johnson’s more recent ‘do or die’ pledge? Clearly, they do not want a noisy caucus of Brexit Party MPs propping up a slender Conservative majority in the next Parliament and donning the coronet of power currently worn by the DUP. Such a group would hold a very tricky cudgel with which to belabour the Government as future deals are cut with Europe.

But the Tories need to respond to Nigel Farage’s olive branch and stand down or soft peddle some of their candidates. The Brexit Party’s leader has been magnanimous and practical: if the Tories don’t respond it could cost them dear.

Patrick Mercer is the former Conservative MP for Newark. He now backs the Brexit Party.