Brexit Party in the Midlands: Now with added policies

Patrick Burns
Political editor, Midlands

  • Published
Image caption,
The Brexit Party added literal fireworks, glow sticks and then policies, but where were the prospective candidates?

Expect fireworks!

It's just one of those things we say in the run-up to potentially lively political events or "crunch meetings". We don't usually mean it literally.

But when the Brexit Party came to Birmingham, promising an audience of 5,000 to witness the unveiling of more than 100 candidates for a possible "snap" autumn general election, that's exactly what we got.

And not just fireworks. There were glow sticks too. And genuine anger, mainly directed at the Parliamentary parties' failure to deliver Brexit more than three years after what David Cameron famously called an "in or out" referendum.

There was, however, one important missing ingredient, or, to be more precise, more than 100 of them. Who exactly are those prospective Parliamentary candidates and where are they standing; the men and women including "economists and fork lift truck drivers"?

The party was forced to deny suggestions that the delay in naming them was because their social media histories had not all been vetted.

Remember, four months ago, the party's first leader, Catherine Blaiklock, resigned over anti-Islam messages online, and the following month the treasurer, Michael McGough, was removed after the discovery of anti-Semitic Facebook posts. The party promises its list of candidates for all 650 Parliamentary seats will be published next month.

Image caption,
When you're wanted 'back in a box' but have a keynote speech to make - Nigel Farage in Birmingham

"Vote Tory, get Corbyn"

This was the keynote message from the party's born-again leader Nigel Farage.

The likely prime minister-in-waiting, Boris Johnson, may have promised to put Mr Farage "back in his box", but the man himself is clearly in no mood to oblige. He warned that the Conservatives risked Labour winning Westminster seats if they did not stand aside and allow the Brexit party a clear run.

In one of my recent posts, I reported that the chair of the Tories' largest "group donor", the Midlands Industrial Council, had raised the prospect of an electoral pact with the Brexit party in the hope that, together, they could secure a general election victory which would elude both of them if they campaigned separately.

Mr Farage obviously has in mind constituencies in Leave-supporting areas like the Black Country and north Staffordshire. The Conservatives captured Stoke-on-Trent South and Walsall North from Labour at the last election but may struggle if the party fails to recover from its Brexit travails.

He may also fancy Labour seats like West Bromwich East, where Labour's Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, is at the forefront of the drive for the party to become avowedly pro-Remain, in support of another EU Referendum or "confirmatory vote".

Mr Farage's other main message was aimed directly at the man most likely to succeed: "You can't trust Boris."

He reminded Tory voters, as well as his audience in the hall, that having twice voted against Theresa May's deal, Mr Johnson had eventually given it his support: so much for the reliability of his pledge to take Britain out of the EU by the end of October.

And another thing....

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Boris Johnson cannot be trusted, says Nigel Farage as the Brexit Party shares its policies

Having campaigned successfully in the European Elections without anything remotely like a manifesto beyond Britain's withdrawal from the EU, the Brexit Party has at last started setting out some specific commitments, clearly designed to appeal to those voters who feel, as the saying goes, "left behind".

In the city often cited as one of the biggest beneficiaries of high-speed rail, Mr Farage promised to cancel HS2. He put its cost at over £100 billion. That's more than twice the officially published figure. He pledged to save a further £39 billion by refusing to hand over the EU divorce bill and up to £60m by cutting the overseas aid budget by 50% over seven years.

These savings, he claimed, would enable zero interest on student loans and the cancellation of accumulated interest payments. High street business rates in towns and cities outside the M25, meanwhile, would be cancelled, funded by "a modest online sales tax", and there would be free broadband connections and wifi on public transport, along with a range of connectivity improvements including an upgrade to the railway line between Birmingham and Rugby.

Sunday Politics Midlands

Joining me in the studio will be three people in ideal positions to cast critical, or supportive, eyes over all this.

The Conservative MP for Wyre Forest and former international trade minister Mark Garnier, now a high-profile cheerleader for Jeremy Hunt in the Conservative leadership campaign; the Labour MEP for the West Midlands, Neena Gill; and one of the West Midlands' three new Brexit Party MEPs, Rupert Lowe.

And I hope you will join me too on BBC One at 11:00 BST on Sunday 7 July 2019.