The return of the Brexit Party – urgent necessity or inevitable failure?

Nigel Farage will not be Britain’s next Prime Minister. The rebranded Brexit Party – now ‘Reform UK’ – is attempting to capitalise on the growing anti-lockdown sentiment in the country, establishing themselves as the unofficial opposition party on this issue.

It is evident that this does not herald electoral success; the party is unlikely to ever hold a seat in Parliament, and even at a local level could find it difficult to translate support into a winning formula. But that does not mean that the potential political consequences of this decision should be underestimated.

Looking at the response of the Government to COVID, one would not be blamed for assuming the country must be seeing overwhelming rise in the disease, similar to the position we were in March. However, this picture is far from the truth. The official data that is available in the public domain shows us that there has been no recent significant rise in cases within the community, the death rate is comparatively negligible, and that it is hospitals that are responsible for the current figures. The illogical attitude of the Government has certainly angered much of their usual base of voters. Traditional Labour supporters who are against shutting down the country in this way have even less representation in Parliament on the issue – no Labour MP voted against the introduction of a second lockdown.

However, it is important to note that Reform UK’s appeal is restricted to a minority of voters, as the current polling suggests most members of the public are prepared to accept the regulations in place. This could be due to public perception that the fatality rate is higher than it is, particularly when considering it in comparison to other respiratory diseases, such as the flu. Nevertheless, the polling is against him, so why has Farage chosen now as his moment to return?

Nigel Farage has long harboured a personal vendetta against the Conservative Party which has affected his campaigning over the last decade. This desire for revenge can be seen particularly since the December 2019 General Election, when he was forced to stand down many of his candidates or risk being seen to threaten the future of Britain’s exit from the European Union. His motivations could also lie in the need to return to the spotlight, and to leave behind his embarrassment regarding the General Election. Alternatively, it is possible that he sees the chaos surrounding COVID and therefore has legitimate fears about the impact on Brexit. By returning to the fore of politics, he is reminding Boris Johnson that he still wants to see a successful outcome for the cause he has fought so hard for. 

Whatever Farage’s intentions, it is clear that he is determined to challenge the Government on this issue. We could well see a shift in the polls over the next few months, particularly as the country enters a new phase of restrictions in December. May’s local elections will be the first occasion Reform UK will get to see electoral results; unless the Government dramatically reduces regulations between now and next Spring, it is highly likely they will suffer at the hands of Farage. The rebranded Brexit Party could not only win a number of seats outright, but they could also cause serious problems for the Conservatives by taking away votes in key areas, resulting in a decisive Labour victory.

Just as the Brexit Party’s success in the European Elections in 2019 cast a shadow on Theresa May’s premiership, Reform UK could well force the early retirement of Boris Johnson.

The inquiry into the Government’s handling of COVID will judge them harshly, and find them wanting. It is inevitable that this Parliament’s authoritarian approach, that has caused the unnecessary devastation of the country’s health and wealth, will be held in contempt for many years to come. What is not clear at this stage is Reform UK’s position. Nevertheless, whatever they end up as a whole chapter or a mere footnote in this section of our country’s narrative, it is apparent that the Brexit Party has secured their place in the history books for a second time.

Emily Bell

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