Richard Leonard: We must stop Donald Trump’s pet politician Nigel Farage

The EU elections on Thursday are a chance to stop Nigel Farage in his tracks – and prevent a no-deal Brexit or Theresa May’s bad deal, writes Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard.

Donald Trump greets Nigel Farage during a campaign rally in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2016 (Picture: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Donald Trump greets Nigel Farage during a campaign rally in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2016 (Picture: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Theresa May didn’t want this Thursday’s European elections to take place. But however much the Prime Minister was determined they should not proceed, it is essential that we use our vote.

Jeremy Corbyn was quite right to enter talks with the UK Government. It was necessary to exhaust every avenue to find an outcome that could avoid the worst possible Brexit scenario – a no-deal Brexit.

He was also absolutely right to withdraw from those talks last week when it was clear that they were a dead end. The priority, now that the talks have come to an end, must continue to be to stop both May’s bad deal and no-deal.

Drawing the line under the talks became inevitable. Theresa May’s Government is simply not governing in any meaningful sense. It is said that she herself is a lame duck Prime Minister, but that is far too harsh on lame ducks.

Her party is a seething mass of plots to replace her. There are so many potential leadership candidates, it would be easier to name those not preparing to run for her job.

Most importantly for Labour, there was no sense from the talks that the Prime Minister was prepared to move on any of the red lines that define her bad deal; and no sense at all that anything agreed would survive the election of a hardened no-deal Brexiteer like Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg. She could not carry her own side or offer a viable compromise.

Those of us who reject May’s deal and reject a no-deal scenario have every interest in voting in the biggest possible numbers this week.

But we also have an interest in voting to seek to heal the divisions that have deepened as the Tories have failed over and over again in the Brexit negotiations. And that means voting on Thursday to stop Nigel Farage’s right-wing tide.

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Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party surges into second place in Scotland

The last European elections were won at a UK level by Ukip, with 26.6 per cent of the vote, narrowly ahead of Labour’s 24.4 per cent. And Scotland was not immune.

The election of Ukip’s David Coburn to the European Parliament is a reminder to us all that right-wing, anti-immigration, anti-European views do not stop at the border with England. Ukip is now in free-fall and has been almost entirely swept aside by Farage’s own political vehicle, the Brexit Party. Farage must be stopped. He is Donald Trump’s pet British politician, a man who wants to move healthcare away from the cherished principles of the NHS and onto a private insurance-based system. He is the candidate of the extreme free-marketeer City spivs. He refuses to publish a manifesto but we know that he stands for a hard Brexit under World Trade Organisation rules.

As the GMB union has emphasised, he is a vocal opponent of workers’ rights and protections. Far from a new and transparent form of politics, he prefers not to answer questions about his party’s own funding.

But Farage should not simply be stopped in is tracks because of his views or his friends. The timing of these elections has raised the stakes. Farage aims to use these elections to embolden pressure for no-deal – something that he hopes will both damage the Tory party and simultaneously encourage it to go further in his direction.

Riding the tailcoats of all this is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, who calls himself Tommy Robinson.

Whereas Farage’s views are those of the hardened right-wing populist, Robinson’s are the politics of extreme racist thuggery. It is to be hoped that the voters of the north-west of England will put a stop to Robinson’s own electoral ambitions this week.

The Unite union has flooded the region with its campaign slogan “we will fight them at the ballot box”, and defeating Yaxley-Lennon would indeed be a victory for democrats and anti-racists everywhere.

Ultimately, however, he feeds off the bigger divisiveness that has been unleashed through the Brexit process. If the hard-Brexit Farage does not win the elections this Thursday, it will take the wind out of Yaxley-Lennon’s sails too.

There is no solution to this Brexit crisis that involves cutting Scotland off from its biggest single economic relationship – with the rest of the UK. Leaving the UK would be immensely harder than leaving Europe.

The simplest way to counter Farage and oppose both May’s deal and no-deal is to vote Labour. The Tories’ chaotic handling of Brexit has left our country in crisis. People’s jobs and industries are at risk. This is why we need an election and a new government, to break the deadlock.

Scottish Labour has made it clear that if changes to the Tories’ bad deal cannot be secured and a general election is not possible, then we back the option of a public vote. And only by electing Labour MEPs can the UK help the Socialist group become the largest block within the European Parliament.

Should Labour emerge with the largest share of the vote in these elections, Farage’s bandwagon would judder to a halt. And the pressure on May would multiply too.