World / Politics

In major shift, Nigel Farage says Brexit Party will not challenge Johnson's Conservatives in 317 seats

Reuters, AFP-JIJI

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said on Monday that his party would not contest the 317 seats won by the Conservative Party in the 2017 election but would contest nearly all other seats.

In a significant boost for Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of the Dec. 12 election, Farage said he did not want anti-Brexit parties to win the election so was standing down candidates in almost half of the 650 seats up for grabs.

“The Brexit Party will not contest the 317 seats the Conservatives won at the last election,” Farage said. “But we will do is concentrate our total effort into all of the seats that are held by the Labour Party, who have completely broken their manifesto in 2017.”

“Our action prevents a second referendum from happening,” Farage said. “We will also take on the rest of the remainer parties.”

The former leader of the UK Independence Party had earlier promised to field 600 candidates in the election, unless Johnson agreed to abandon the exit terms he has agreed to with Brussels.

But the prime minister refused and Farage has now given in, noting wryly: “In a sense we now have a Leave alliance, it’s just that we’ve done it unilaterally.”

Labour chairman Ian Lavery accused Farage and Johnson of cooking up an alliance that threatened to “sell out our country” and the state-run health service to U.S. drugs firms.

“We urge voters to reject this Thatcherite 1980s tribute act, which would lead to more savage Tory attacks on working class communities,” he said.

“Our NHS (National Health Service) is not for sale.”

Sara Hobolt, a political expert at the London School of Economics, said the decision was a boost for Johnson, tweeting: “This makes a Tory majority much more likely.”

However, Johnson still faces difficulties.

The Conservatives won 317 in the 2017 general election but they go into next month’s vote defending only 298 after Johnson expelled some MPs and others defected to other parties due to arguments over Brexit.

Even if they manage to keep those 317 seats, it would not be enough to form a majority government.

After 2017, the party was forced to team up with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to stay in power.

Johnson is aiming for Labour-held seats to boost his numbers and in this, will still be up against Farage.