‘Forget Farage, vote Tory’ say MEPs quitting Brexit Party

#Brexit special section Beyond England News

Three Brexit Party MEPs have resigned the whip and called on Leave supporters to forget about Nigel Farage and vote Conservative instead.

The MEPs carried out their “mutiny” just a day after another Brexit Party MEP was stripped off the party whip – and just one week before the general election.

The group of four – including Jacob Rees-Mogg’s sister Annunziata – held a press conference today and called on Farage to “swallow his pride” and quit the election race completely to allow the Tories a clear run at the Brexit vote.

‘Unbelievable, but tragic’ risk to Brexit

Rees-Mogg, the MEP for East Midlands told journalists: “ I find it absolutely unbelievable, but tragic, that the Brexit Party, with so many wonderful people dedicated to a cause, are now the very party risking Brexit.

“If you, like me, support democracy, then please, like me, use your vote to support the Conservatives and get us out of the EU.”

‘Johnson’s deal, unamended is unacceptable’

Farage accused the four defectors as having close links with the Tories in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil, to be broadcast tonight:

“One of them is a sister of a cabinet minister, another one has a boyfriend working for that cabinet minister.

Neil buts in, and repeats the word “smear”, as Farage replies: “Fact. And another one is a personal friend of Boris Johnson’s. They are not smears they are facts.

“They joined the Brexit Party, they joined the coalition that I put together. They clearly were disaffected with Mrs May as leader. And we’re not the Conservative Party.

“And I tell you something: Boris Johnson’s deal, unamended is unacceptable, and I certainly stand by that.”

A ‘fresh humilliation’ for Farage

The Mirror describes the defection as a “fresh humiliation” for the embattled Brexit Party leader and a further blow during an election campaign that saw him stand down 317 candidates in Conservative constituencies.

Farage has repeatedly claimed the Conservatives have been targeting his party’s candidates with offers of titles and peerages should they “step aside”.

Rees-Mogg said her decision to leave the Brexit Party was because: “We need a strong leave supporting government to deliver the Brexit 17.4 million people voted for.”

‘A group of just disaffected MEPs’

The other three MEPs to quit the party are: Lance Forman, Lucy Harris and John Longworth, former head of the British Chambers of Commerce who yesterday (Dec 4) was stripped off the party whip for “undermining” party strategy. The MEPs say they will no longer sit with their former colleagues in the European Parliament and urged leave-supporters to back Johnson’s Tories.

Farage said: “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.”

Longworth was asked to respond to his former leader’s description of the four resigning Brexit Party members as “a group of just disaffected MEPs” on BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

“I joined the Brexit Party with the express intent of delivering Brexit,” said Longworth. “That was the one and only thing that we intended to do, before the European elections. We had a situation where I thought Brexit was in severe jeopardy.”

The MEP said Theresa May’s government had risked making the UK a “vassal state” in “permanent orbit of the European Union” and continued: “We succeeded in removing the administration. The fact of the matter is, that the only party that can deliver Brexit is the party of government which is the Conservatives.”

Political timing

Asked about the timing of resignations – just a week before December 12’s polling day – Longworth said he wrote articles for the Telegraph “weeks ago” supporting Johnson’s deal, conceding: “It’s not perfect, it probably approximates to a little better than ‘Norway’– but it could result in a very good deal.”

He said he also wrote in the Telegraph “that we should only fight about 20 seats” in solidly Labour constituencies with high numbers of leave voters.

“It’s too late to do that now. The only way that we can be sure that we will deliver Brexit, and that democracy will be satisfied, is to vote for the government and the Conservative party, ” he said.

“It would be very nice if {Brexit Party} candidates stood down because that would mean that the choice that people have for Brexit is the Conservative Party.”

‘Brexit Party has morphed into something more’

Longworth said “Farage didn’t give us much option to have a conversation” about Johnson’s deal and declared it the “worst deal  in history within a nano-second”, whereas “it took me five hours” to read the documents “and come to my conclusions.”

He went on: “The Brexit Party has morphed into something more than just a party that’s promoting Brexit however, since the European elections, and that’s not what I signed up for.”

“It’s been made very clear that the party is there to change politics forever – whatever that means.”

He dismissed suggestions about “any approach from the Conservative party” as “risible”, and joked away Farage’s jibe about being rewarded with a “peerage”.

  • The Andrew Neil interview with Nigel Farage will be broadcast tonight (Dec 5) on BBC 1 at 7pm.

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