Johnson rejects warning from Brexit hardliner to drop EU divorce deal
Conservatives say voting for Nigel Farage will lead to another 'gridlocked Parliament'
Hardline Brexit advocate Nigel Farage opened his U.K. election campaign on Friday by warning Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson that his Brexit Party will contest every seat unless Johnson ditches his EU divorce deal and agrees to an electoral alliance of Brexit-supporting parties.
The call was swiftly rejected by Johnson and his party.
The snap election, set for Dec. 12, is highly unpredictable. An electoral alliance on either side of the Brexit schism could be a game changer after nearly four years of political crisis over Britain's decision to quit the European Union.
Farage, a master at exerting maximum pressure on Conservative prime ministers by poaching their traditional voters, cast his proposal as a non-aggression pact.
"I will say this to Boris Johnson: drop the deal, drop the deal because it is not Brexit, drop the deal because as weeks go by and people discover what it is you will have signed up, they will not like it," Farage told reporters.
"He is trying to sell a second-hand motor where he has polished up the bonnet, but actually, underneath, nothing has changed and it is Mrs. May's appalling surrender treaty," Farage said, referring to the deal struk by former prime minister Theresa May.
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Opinion polls give Johnson a healthy lead over the main opposition Labour Party, but also suggest more than 10 per cent of voters back the Brexit Party — enough to split the pro-Brexit vote in some seats and hand victory to Labour.
Farage said that if Johnson rejected his proposal, the Brexit Party would fight for votes in every seat. Instead, he proposed to stand aside in around 500 seats in return for the Conservatives giving his party a clear run in about 150 seats where he thought the Brexit Party had a better chance of winning. He gave Johnson until Nov. 14 to consider.
As leader of the U.K. Independence Party Leader, Farage helped force May's predecessor, David Cameron, to call the Brexit referendum in 2016, and played a lead role in the campaign to leave the EU. He said Britain's exit from the bloc is now in peril.
U.S. President Donald Trump — a friend of Farage — endorsed the idea of a pact. He called up Farage's radio show on Thursday, saying, "If you and he get together it's, you know, unstoppable force."
But the Conservative Party showed no sign of dropping its oft-stated refusal to make any election pact.
"It will not get Brexit done — and it will create another gridlocked Parliament that doesn't work," party chair James Cleverly said.
Johnson later ruled out dropping his Brexit deal.
"What we've got is a fantastic deal that nobody thought we could get," he told British television channel ITV . "We can put that deal through."
Shunned by the British political establishment, Farage, backed by wealthy Eurosceptic financiers, helped sell Brexit to millions of voters in England and Wales who felt ignored by the mainstream Conservative and Labour parties.
His enemies say he sells a nostalgic vision of a Britain, though opponents admit that their failure to address concerns about immigration allowed him to build support.
He proposes what he calls a "clean-break Brexit," which means the type of "no-deal" departure, with no arrangements to temper the economic shock, that many international businesses and banks say is their nightmare scenario.
Farage urged Johnson to abandon transition arrangements or hopes of long-term political alliance with the EU and instead pursue a free trade deal.
He said Johnson must set a July 1 exit deadline and leave under basic World Trade Organization terms if such a deal could not be agreed.
Farage told Reuters that Johnson had shown his ability to change position.
"And now, Mr Johnson, it's the time to drop the treaty and get on with a proper Brexit," he said.