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Former UKIP leader and populist pinup Nigel Farage has announced via an article for The Daily Telegraph that he has formed a new party. The Brexit Party stands ready, he says, to field candidates in the European Parliament elections if Theresa May opts for a delay to Brexit and the UK has to elect a bunch of MEPs in May.
The news should scare the living daylights out of the Conservative leadership. If May ends up asking for extension, as the more frightened Remainer members of the cabinet demand, then a new force is on hand to give the Tories a terrible kicking. Frustrated pro-Brexit voters would have somewhere to go. The Brexit Party could even be the basis for a longer term populist project to cause chaos and peel votes away from the Tories, and in certain parts of the country from Labour.
A large pile of Brexit donor money and reservoir of grassroots anti-EU and anti-Westminster activism is looking for an outlet. Has it just found one in the Brexit Party?
There have been a variety of colourful responses to Farage’s initiative. He is a hate figure for dedicated Remainers and referendum rerun activists. Such is the venom that people with robust views on Brexit tend to find it difficult to be dispassionate about an extraordinarily effective politician. I say that as someone who has been persistently critical of his associations and rhetoric. If he had won the designation and fronted the official campaign to leave I would, like many moderate Brexiteers, have found it all but impossible to vote Leave.
Yet Farage is arguably the most successful British party leader for decades – eclipsing Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron – in terms of impact on history. From almost nothing, with a ragtag party, he built UKIP into a formidable force that won the European elections and attracted over four million votes, menacing the Tories.
This is, of course, where Cameron critics say the former Tory leader made a mistake in offering a referendum. That is nonsense. He was the first who was honest enough to recognise it had to be settled one way or the other. The British elites had forced through decades of integration with the EU and never asked permission. That basic deceit is the root of the hiding they took in 2016.
Wasn’t it just party management from Cameron? Sure, a bit of that, and so what? The British system has for three centuries rested on party management, and without it you collapse and the other lot – Ed Miliband in this case – gets in.
Farage forced this reckoning in 2016. It is quite the strategic achievement that will echo down the decades. In 2050, when no-one other than his grandchildren recalls who George Osborne was, the name Farage – much like the name John Wilkes in its way – will be notorious among historians and students of political history. Farage is the rebel who won.
Some Tory Brexiteers today will draw the wrong conclusion from the formation of his new party, thinking it means they must hold out from further compromise with May. The opposite conclusion looks more sensible. Vote for a deal, a deal with tweaks, and get it over the line, and get exit from the EU done on March 29th, or have delay imposed and unleash unpredictable havoc with Farage at the head of a well-funded and fired-up new force.