The Brexit party, formed by veteran Eurosceptic Nigel Farage, is in danger of imploding after suffering a series of high-profile defections and expulsions a week before the UK’s general election on 12 December.
John Longworth, the former leader of the Federation of Small Businesses, was expelled from the party on Wednesday, while Annunziata Rees-Mogg, the sister of hawkish Conservative cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, and fellow MEPs Lucy Harris and Lance Forman resigned from the party on Thursday.
The four MEPs say that they will now campaign in favour of Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
The Brexit party, formed in March, has been bitterly divided over its stance on Johnson’s Brexit deal, which Farage opposes.
At a press conference on Thursday, John Longworth described the Withdrawal Agreement as “the only game in town”, while Ms Rees-Mogg accused the Brexit party of putting at risk the UK’s exit from the EU.
Having comfortably topped the poll at the European elections in May with 29 seats, the Brexit party has seen support evaporate in recent months.
Farage said the party would not stand candidates in seats won by the Conservatives in 2017, though he ruled out a formal ‘Leave’ alliance with the Conservative party, instead targeting the five million Labour voters who had also voted to leave the EU in 2016. However, the Brexit party is unlikely to win any seats at all next Thursday.
“We are disappointed that four of our MEPs don’t seem to understand that we both saved the Conservative party from large scale losses to the Liberal Democrats in the South and South West of England but we are also hammering the Labour Leave vote in its traditional heartlands, making it much easier for the Conservatives to win many of those seats,” said Farage.
“The only vote on the Leave side that is currently being split is in areas such as Barnsley, the South Wales Valleys, Doncaster and Hartlepool where there is a risk that the Tories will split our vote.”
In an angry exchange, the Brexit party also accused the MEPs of conflicts of interest, implying that they had been offered government jobs, a charge which all have denied.
“We also note that one of the MEPs is the sister of a cabinet minister, another has a partner who works in the office of the same cabinet minister and yet another is a personal friend of both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove,” said a party spokesman.
“In the case of John Longworth, who was for years the firmest advocate of WTO withdrawal that we have ever met, he underwent a metamorphosis into being a supporter of the new EU treaty following two days of meetings in London. We hope that Mr Longworth is well rewarded for his actions.”
With a week until election day, polls suggest that Johnson’s Conservatives is on course to win a narrow majority, although all parties are mindful that tactical voting is likely to be far more prevalent than at previous polls.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]