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Why did the Brexit Party get zero seats in the general election?

“I killed the Liberal Democrats and I hurt the Labour Party,” Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage claimed.

Image: Jacob King

THIS WAS NOT the result the Brexit Party wanted.

In the European elections, the Brexit Party won 29 seats and held 30% of the vote – giving it the largest representation of British MEPs in the European Parliament. For context, the Tories under the helm of Theresa May won four seats.

That was in May. Yet now in December, in a nation where 17 million people voted for Brexit in 2016, the Brexit Party failed to get any seats in the general election.

There are a couple of reasons for this, the first being the first-past-the-post electoral system: 642,303 votes were cast for the Brexit Party. In a proportional representation system, this analysis shows that the Brexit Party would have won 13 seats.

Having said that, it got 5,248,533 votes in the European elections - so this election is a significant downward trend for the young party. 

Brexit Party chairman and MEP Richard Tice got 10,603 votes in his constituency of Hartlepool – around a thousand fewer than the Conservative candidate and nearly 5,000 fewer than Labour’s Mike Hill, who won the seat.

So what happened?

What Farage is claiming

“I was determined in this election we would use our influence to stop a second referendum,” Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage claimed in the aftermath of the election result. “That was overwhelmingly our decision to stand down in 317 seats.”

Taking the fight to Labour was important. Because what you’re going to see tonight are dozens of seats that the Conservatives are either going to win tonight or come close, but they wouldn’t have got close to it if we weren’t there taking thousands of votes.

“I killed the Liberal Democrats and I hurt the Labour Party.”

Although Farage has been arguing that he completed his aim in this election by keeping a second Brexit referendum at bay, this is part of his post-electoral spin – he had hoped to win seats in Westminster, telling Sky News’ Sophy Ridge last weekend: “I think we will get some in, I genuinely do.”

At the start of the election campaign, when the Brexit Party was performing well in the polls, its party leader Nigel Farage asked Boris Johnson to form an election pact, so that they wouldn’t run candidates against each other in close constituencies. This would avoid splitting the Brexit vote, and ensuring either one or the other party’s candidate got in.

His condition for their support was high: to abandon his Brexit deal 2.0, and to deliver a no-deal, or ‘clean-break’ Brexit – which was the only form of Brexit the Brexit Party believed was acceptable:

“So I’m going to say this to Boris Johnson: drop the deal. Drop the deal, because it’s not Brexit; drop the deal because, as these weeks go by, and people discover what it is that you’ve signed up to, they will not like it,” Farage said at the time.

If Johnson agreed to this, Farage promised to drop candidates in all but 150 seats (they had over 600 candidates to begin with). 

britain-brexit-election Nigel Farage waits to walk down to the podium during an election press conference in London. Source: Matt Dunham

But twice Johnson refused the olive branch, despite it being supported by US President Donald Trump. “I’m afraid I don’t wish to cast any aspersions on the president of the United States but in that respect he’s patently in error, anybody who looks at our deal can see that it’s a great deal,” Johnson said.

Despite this, Farage decided to withdraw half of his party’s candidates anyway, just a month out from the election.

The Party didn’t contest the 317 seats won by the Tories in the last election. Farage claimed that this was a ‘Leave alliance’ – but if it was, it was only coming from one direction.

Where it all went wrong

There are two main reasons for why this happened, and why the wind was taken out of the Brexit Party’s sails by then.

Firstly, the point of the Brexit Party was that it promised to deliver on the 2016 EU referendum result when the Tories were not. Following the appointment of Boris Johnson as Tory leader, the Brexit Party had a tougher time figuring out what they’d do differently: Johnson was an ardent Brexiteer the way Theresa May was not. 

By the time Boris Johnson had struck a new and improved Withdrawal Agreement, Farage’s party had an even tougher sell. Here was a literal way out for Brexit voters, which would mean the UK could leave the EU by January.

The British public had not only become jaded by the constant Brexit debate, but had also been warned about the expected perils of a no-deal Brexit. 

The Brexit Party campaigned in the election on the basis that the only Brexit that was acceptable was a no-deal Brexit, which has possibly turned out to be too extreme for voters to accept.

This was evident after three Brexit MEPs quit the party a week before the election, one of whom was the sister of prominent Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg. 

“We need a strong Leave-supporting government to deliver the Brexit 17.4 million voted for,” Annunziata Rees-Mogg said at the time.

In Scotland, Wales and England. The Brexit Party are permitting votes to go away from the Conservatives, providing us with a Remain coalition that will do anything not to honour the Brexit referendum.

On the eve before polling day, a Brexit Party newsletter sent out to subscribers claimed:

“…Boris can’t be trusted to deliver Brexit on his own… There will be no real Brexit without The Brexit Party in parliament. Leavers, don’t waste your vote!”

In an interview with Sky News’ Sophy Ridge, Nigel Farage said he will rename the Brexit Party to ‘the Reform Party’ if the UK leaves the EU on 31 January, saying that the name had already been registered.

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