Brexit Party defectors set to join barren Tory benches in Brussels

The Daily Express are reporting that the Conservative Party Chairman, James Cleverly, will announce that Lance Forman, John Longworth, Lucy Harris and Annunziata Rees-Mogg officially join the Tories in the European Parliament, doubling the party’s MEPs.

At the press conference, Rees-Mogg, the member representing the East Midlands declared that ‘we need a strong leave-supporting government to deliver the Brexit 17.4 million voted for. The Conservatives are the only option for Brexit supporters and democrats alike.’

After Theresa May’s disastrous EU Election campaign in May, the Conservative contingent in Brussels totalled at a dismal four. With Daniel Hannan, one of the architects of the Leave movement, only narrowly holding onto his seat in the South-East of England.

By comparison the Brexit Party won 29 seats, and until the decision taken in December, Nigel Farage’s party was the largest throughout the continent. Farage built upon the 24 seats that UKIP won in 2014, under his leadership, but unlike in 2014 Labour and the Tories suffered an attack on two fronts.

Three prominent Tories who suffered defeat at the hands of the Farage and Swinson battle were Amjad Bashal, who whilst elected as a UKIP MEP in 2014, lost his Yorkshire seat. But potentially the two more significant defeats were to the co-chair of the ECR Group, Syed Kamall and the Conservative Leader in Europe, Ashely Fox.

Many Brexit Party members responded scathingly to the quartet’s initial announcement, days before Boris Johnson’s emphatic majority, and it appears similar figures are infuriated by the speculation this morning.

One of the prominent critics, James Wells, tweeted describing their actions as ‘treacherous and a total betrayal of those who voted to make them MEPs!’ However, other Eurosceptics, including the Editor of ConservativeHome, Mark Wallace, have hailed the news as ‘excellent’ because it would finally lead to ‘reuniting the right’.

The Express has also indicated that Nigel Farage has spoken out against their decision. Mirroring the personal comments made in December, he said ‘never underestimate human greed and stupidity. They rode off my back.’ This has potentially added strains to his pro-Brexit relationships, especially with the former director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, John Longworth.

Just last week Longworth resigned as the Chairman of the pro-Brexit, cross-party group Leave Means Leave. Nigel Farage also played a prominent role in the organisation and while members of the quartet thanked Longworth for his work, there was no gratitude shown by any Brexit Party MEPs.

Geoffrey von Orden, the new leader of the Tories in Brussels, welcomed the announcement for the ‘reinforcement of our Conservative delegation in the final weeks of membership of the EU.’ The MEP for the East of England went on to say that the defections were clear evidence that the ‘Prime Minister is delivering on his promise to get Brexit done and to overcome division and uncertainty.’

Perhaps, as von Orden has alluded to, the decision to defect is symbolic rather than substantial. By 11:00 pm on the 31st of January there will be no British MEPs roaming the corridors of power in Brussels, and the quartet had already expressed that they were going to vote for the Brexit bill on the 29th of January when the vote will take place in the European Parliament.

Instead, the defection may illustrate a national change. When Boris Johnson stormed to his 86-seat majority he stood on a manifesto to ‘get Brexit done’. And as much as Labour critiqued his slogan, it would appear that the nation is accepting that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union and that gradually we will return to political normalcy.

By J Walters

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