Picture by Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street

How likely is a Nigel Farage-Boris Johnson alliance ‘to defend Brexit’?

The Boris Johnson psychodrama has developed in phases. From the three “Ps” — “Patersongate”, “Partygate” and the “Pincher affair” — which preceded the former PM’s defenestration last summer; to the botched rebellion over the Windsor Framework; and now his resignation as an MP, prompted by a letter from the privileges committee trailing its damning report into whether he lied to the House of Commons.

But viewed in full, a key element of the psychodramatic chaos that has unfolded over the past year has been Johnson’s ideological angling. Debuted in the lead-up to the Windsor Framework vote, as the former PM tried and failed to force Sunak to rely on Labour votes for his NI Protocol resolution, Johnson has reimagined himself as a bastion of the Conservative right, enabled by willing activists in the Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO) and Sunak-sceptic, grudge-bearing allies.

The positioning was informed, first and foremost, by the specificities of Rishi Sunak’s elevation as leader. In the two leadership contests of 2022, the PM drew his primary support from the party’s moderate MPs. Unable to support Truss’ economic agenda in the summer, Sunak was the one-nation faction’s obvious choice as the two clashed in an acrimonious campaign. In the end, many of the PM’s most prominent cabinet picks, including Jeremy Hunt, Mel Stride, Robert Jenrick, Andrew Mitchell and Oliver Dowden, were remain supporters. So in recent months, notwithstanding Sunak’s overwhelming focus on small boats and long-held support for Brexit, Johnson-allied MPs have taken aim at the government’s supposed centrist tilt. 

In turn, Johnson, who has made a political career on being ideologically malleable, has sought to style himself as the man to save Brexit Britain from its liberal pretender-in-chief.

It’s a position Johnson underlines in his deeply embittered resignation statement. “We need to show how we are making the most of Brexit and we need in the next months to be setting out a pro-growth and pro-investment agenda. We need to cut business and personal taxes — and not just as pre-election gimmicks — rather than endlessly putting them up”, he outlined the message released Friday. 

Johnson added: “We must not be afraid to be a properly Conservative government. … We need to deliver on the 2019 manifesto, which was endorsed by 14 million people. We should remember that more than 17 million voted for Brexit”.

The former PM’s decision to frame his resignation from parliament through the prism of the UK’s departure from the EU puzzled many, but not Nigel Farage, the former UKIP and Brexit party leader. 

“I think it’s the end of Boris Johnson in the Conservative Party”, Farage said on Sunday, “if [the former PM] really wants to be in politics he is going to have to be part of some sort of centre-right realignment”. 

The former UKIP leader was angling at a pro-Brexit, anti-Sunak, relentlessly right-wing political alliance.

Asked to comment on such a Johnson-Farage pact, the Brexit campaigner told GB News: “If he wants to defend his Brexit legacy, I want to defend my Brexit legacy too. … Would there be a possibility of a new coming together on the centre-right? It would be Boris Johnson, there would be other MPs that would join in with this as well.”

He added: “I have discussed it with people very close to him and around him”.

The former Brexit party leader also hinted that more than 10 Conservative MPs could be willing to join a new party headed by the duo. Asked on the BBC if any Conservative MPs have got in contact who might be interested in a “gap in the political market”, he said: “More than before, … the Red Wallers know they’re going to lose their seats as it is running as Conservatives, and if there was a coming together on the centre-right, which is where the gap is, I think quite a few would”. How many? “Potentially double figures would not be hard to say”, he added.

Farage seems to think that a pact between himself and Johnson would not only be ideologically coherent, but a nexus point for a further post-Brexit political insurgency. 

The former UKIP leader is, therefore, keen to emphasise those key myths peddled by Johnson, wholeheartedly accepting the former PM’s framing that the privileges committee’s verdict is revenge for the 2016 referendum. 

And, in doing so, Farage willingly ignores those issues on which he and Johnson profoundly diverge. 

Under Johnson, upholding the net-zero target was one of the six promises which formed the basis of the 2019 Conservative manifesto. Back in November, his presence at COP27, to stress the climate achievements of his premiership, was a crucial factor in forcing Rishi Sunak to board an Egypt-bound jet to the conference. Farage, on the other hand, has called the pursuit of Net zero an act of “self-harm” and during Johnson’s tenure in No 10 campaigned for a referendum on the PM’s “ruinous” green agenda

Moreover, a prominent part of Johnson’s post-premiership PR campaign has been to stress his role in providing support to Ukraine. And in February, the former PM suggested Farage was “speaking for the Kremlin” over Russia’s invasion after the former Brexit party leader doubted the veracity of Johnson’s claim, made in a BBC documentary, that Vladimir Putin had threatened to kill him as he tried to prevent the conflict.

More than this, just two weeks ago, Farage said he regretted the 2019 election deal with Johnson which saw him pull Brexit party candidates from the 317 seats the Conservatives won at the 2017 election. He told ITV‘s Peston: “I felt at that moment in time, we just had to get it over the line. I have some regrets now, yes, of course I do”.

He added: “The Conservatives effectively lied to the country in 2019, they’ve not delivered Brexit”.

This was the same man who, in a Telegraph column on Saturday, said: “At the general election [in 2019], … I determined that no Brexit Party candidate would stand against the Conservatives in the 317 seats they had won at the previous general election. This was agreed after Johnson committed to no regulatory alignment and to leaving the EU in 2020. 

“In the end, he did indeed get Brexit done”, Farage concluded. It was a column intended for an audience of one.

The truth is that Farage and Johnson are not a particularly compelling political duo: their profiles are too disparate and their policy disagreements too far-ranging. That they happened to end up on the same side of the Brexit campaign is one thing; but since 2019, what is clear is that Farage cannot decide whether to herald or rubbish Johnson’s contribution to the project he patronised. 

So right now it may benefit the former UKIP leader to angle towards a Johnson alliance — as former Conservative leader Michael Howard said on Sunday: “Nigel is making mischief, which he’s very, very good at” — but basic political facts make such an entente an impossibility.