In 2013, I went to a Bruges Group fringe at Manchester Town Hall, which was just outside of the Tory conference going on in the city at the same time. The panellists were Nigel Farage, Bill Cash, Peter Oborne and someone chairing I can’t recall. Bill Cash started and went on and on about how wonderful Farage is; how he is the man leading the charge to get Britain out of the European Union and Nige is for all intents and purposes his personal hero. Farage didn’t return the favour – he used his speech to tear into Cash for still being in the Conservative party even all these years after the Maastricht “disaster”. Cash sat there stunned, having underestimated the degree to which Farage hates the Conservative party.
Flash forward to 2019: Farage’s response to Boris Johnson’s latest round of proposals has been muted. He has pointed out some of the flaws of the whole thing while commending BJ’s ambition. Like the European Union, but for exactly opposite reasons, Farage is biding his time. He realises the chances of the whole thing flying in Brussels are minimal and so he doesn’t feel the need to come out fighting just yet. But just by having laid out the barebones of an alternative “deal” with the EU, Johnson has already provided Farage with a lot of ammunition for the next general election.
Farage can say that, in the end, Boris Johnson won’t leave the EU without a deal. He showed that in trying to get one; yes, he had to extend against his will due to the Benn Act, but Johnson knew that was coming and it freed him to be as passionate about the idea of leaving with no deal as he wanted since he knew it wouldn’t happen. As for the ERG, well, that’s an even better line for Farage. When push came to shove, even so called “Spartans” like Baker and Francois supported the deal, showing that they would rather stay loyal to the party than back a no deal Brexit. If you really want to leave the EU anytime soon, vote for the Brexit party. It’s the only way it is going to happen.
I’ve been saying for a while that putting forth a deal to the EU puts Boris Johnson at huge political risk: if the deal doesn’t pass either the EU or parliament, he gets tarred with having avoided no deal without having a deal to at least point to as progress. As ever, Johnson continues to employ his high risk strategy. Every single element of it has failed so far – and looks likely to continue failing. And once that has played out, Farage will be waiting in the wings, his Brexit credentials unblemished.