Nigel Farage formally launched his Brexit party on Friday (12 April) promising to save Brexit for a British public that had been “betrayed” by its political leaders.
“We are lions led by donkeys,” said the former UKIP leader and Brexit front-man, who warned that his new party was “not here just to fight the European elections.”
“23 May is the first step of the Brexit Party. We will change politics for good,” Farage said at the launch in the Midlands city of Coventry.
Annunziata Rees-Mogg, sister of Tory hard-Brexiteer Jacob, will stand on the Farage party ticket.
Farage’s party has already received £750,000 online over the past 10 days and is chaired by Richard Tice, the businessman who has fronted the ‘Leave means Leave’ campaign, set up after the 2016 referendum.
Although Theresa May urged UK lawmakers to pass her Withdrawal Agreement before May 22, thereby avoiding the need to hold European elections, with the UK Parliament deadlocked and cross-party talks unlikely to bear fruit any time soon, the polls have become almost inevitable and are likely to become a proxy for a second referendum on Brexit.
Although a European election poll earlier this week put the Brexit party on 10%, in third place behind Labour and the Conservatives, Farage’s new vehicle will expect to beat Theresa May’s Conservatives, who are expected to suffer a severe voter backlash.
However, the risk for Brexiteers is that Farage’s new party will split the hard Brexit vote.
UKIP, the party which Farage has dominated for the past twenty years, has suffered a series of defections since Gerard Batten assumed the party leadership and moved UKIP towards an overtly Islamophobic position alongside anti-Muslim campaigner Tommy Robinson. But it is still polling at around 8% for the European elections.
On the pro-European side, the breakaway Change UK party, formed by pro-Remain MPs from Labour and the Tories, also expect to win seats.
Meanwhile, May’s acceptance of a six month extension at Wednesday’s European Council summit appears to have taken a ‘no deal’ Brexit off the table.
On Thursday, the UK civil service formally stood down around 6,000 civil servants who had been seconded to work on no deal preparations at an estimated cost of £1.5 billion.
“The objective is to ensure we wind down our no-deal planning in a careful, considered and orderly way,” said a letter from the head of the Cabinet Office department, which was leaked to Sky News.
Operation Brock, set up to avoid disruption caused by customs delays around the port town of Dover on the Kent Coast, is also expected to be wound down.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]