Exclusive: Brexit Party accused of widening North-South divide by 'profiting at the ballot box with popular rhetoric'

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The Brexit Party has been accused of jeopardising the closure of the North-South divide by “profiting at the ballot box with popular rhetoric”.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage yesterday vowed not to stand candidates in Tory-held seats, and instead target Labour seats primarily in the North.

Setting out his election strategy in Hartlepool yesterday Mr Farage went back on his previous announcement that he would put up candidates in every constituency in the country, and insisted that the modern Labour Party was miles away from the political movement that once represented the North.

He said if he put up candidates for every seat it would mean the Liberal Democrats made gains in the South and would lead to a hung Parliament and a second referendum.

But he said his party would concentrate all their efforts on winning Labour-held seats.

He said: "The Brexit Party will not contest the 317 seats the Conservatives won at the last election.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage. Photo: PA

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage. Photo: PA

"But what we will do is concentrate our total effort into all the seats that are held by the Labour Party, who have completely broken their manifesto pledge in 2017 to respect the result of the referendum.

"And we will also take on the rest of the Remainer parties. We will stand up and we will fight them all."

He added: “I think it is also fair to say that the London-dominated Labour party is now thousands of miles away from it’s traditional safe seats many it has held since 1918 and it actually is the time for seismic change in many of these constituencies.

“I think there is a Labour audience out there waiting for that message.”

Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Henri Murison. Photo: JPI Media

Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Henri Murison. Photo: JPI Media

But the former UKIP leader was warned that closing the inequalities between the North and the South was as much of a priority to many northern voters as Brexit, in a letter from lobbying group the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Director Henri Murison wrote: “Many people voted to leave because they felt their communities had been let down by a Westminster-centric system, with power too remote from peoples’ everyday lives.

“My fear is that your Brexit Party is also falling into a trap of itself being a parallel establishment, far from changing politics as you claim it is.

“The evidence is that you are ignoring the economic causes of the North-South divide and damaging the project to put the country back together whilst profiting at the ballot box from populist rhetoric.”

However a Brexit Party spokesman said: "An organisation fronted by George Osborne doesn't approve of Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party. Blow me down with a feather.

"The Brexit Party is committed to ensuring that the North of England and elsewhere will get the full benefit of Brexit, the opportunity to trade with the whole world rather than being stuck in the sclerotic European Union.

"The North-South divide has been exacerbated by our EU membership as it has imposed huge costs on industry through enforced carbon and energy price increases."

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership has also pledged to analyse each party’s manifesto for how it will help redress the balance for the North but the Brexit Party has announced it will not put out a manifesto at all.

The letter said: “Your only major domestic policy, apart from constitutional issues such as Proportional Representation and the abolition of the House of Lords, is the cancellation of HS2.

“I am sure many northern business people, large and small, could understand that you may have concerns about exactly how HS2 is being built, that capacity is more important than speed. However, our railways are struggling to cope with the large numbers of commuters and freight we need to grow our economy.”

It added: “Our analysis of your statements today show a net cut of at least £26bn from Government long term infrastructure to the northern economy.

“In turn, it will also make it impossible to complete Northern Powerhouse Rail in full beyond places like Manchester, Warrington and Liverpool unless you invest a further £10bn.

“However, this black hole created in infrastructure spending plans is investment you will not have as you plan to invest your HS2 dividend in many other projects which will invariably be outside the north in the main, because you have also not given any firm commitments to the wider schemes proposed by Transport for the North in their strategic transport plan.”

The party's spokesman added: "HS2 is a boondoggle whose cost continues to soar and will benefit not the wider North, but instead London.

"Evidence is pretty clear from the example of similar schemes in France where instead of getting investment into the regions it vacuumed business out of the regions into Paris. Why is the taxpayer bled dry so that a well paid businessman has 20 minutes less time to drink their champagne on their first class expenses?"

John Grogan, Labour candidate in Keighley where there is just a 239 majority, is likely to be one of the Brexit Party’s key targets.

But Mr Grogan said he was not worried.

He said: “They’re entitled to stand, the Brexit Party candidate has been around for a few months. This is my eighth General Election, I’ve sometimes woken up on election day knowing I’ve lost, I’ve never woken up knowing I’ve won, so we take it in our stride really.”

He said voters told him they were split on voting along Brexit lines or domestic policy on December 12.

Mr Grogan said: “Some people don’t want to discuss Brexit at all, and we’ve got people who have strong views on both sides.”

While Jon Trickett, Labour candidate for Hemsworth, added: “This is a Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson alliance with Donald Trump to sell out our country and send £500m per week from our NHS to US drugs companies.

“We urge voters to reject this Thatcherite 1980s tribute act, which would lead to more savage Tory attacks on working class communities. Our NHS is not for sale."

Polling experts said the Brexit Party move would help the Tories in seats where they were under threat - particularly from the Lib Dems.

However, they will still be contesting Labour-held seats which the Tories need to win if they are to gain an overall majority in the poll on December 12.

Chris Curtis, Head of Political Research at pollsters YouGov, said: "It is still the case that most marginal seats are Labour-Conservative battles and this is the most important dynamic in deciding who will be celebrating Christmas in 10 Downing Street.

"Given this, Farage's decision to stand aside in current Conservative-held seats and not in Labour-held seats that the Tories will be looking to gain will likely make very little difference."

Nevertheless, the move was still welcomed by Mr Johnson, who flatly denied that he had called Mr Farage to agree a deal.

"I'm glad that there's a recognition that there's only one way to get Brexit done and that's to vote for the Conservatives," he told reporters on the campaign trail in Wolverhampton.

Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said: “Nigel Farage standing down shows the Conservatives and the Brexit party are now one and the same. Johnson's hard right Brexit takeover of the Tory party has now been endorsed by both Trump and Farage.

“As Nigel Farage has admitted, the Liberal Democrats are the only party at this election that can take seats from the Conservative, stop Brexit and build a brighter future."