Guardian News and Media/London
Nigel Farage’s decision to unilaterally stand down more than half the Brexit Party’s candidates has prompted fury from some of the hopefuls, with one candidate saying he only learned the news when a passing driver asked him why he was still campaigning.
Darren Selkus, who was the candidate for Epping Forest, said Farage had “betrayed my incredible volunteers and thousands of constituents who will have no one to vote for” by pulling out of all 317 Conservative-held seats.
In a statement on his local party website, Selkus said that as soon as Farage made the announcement at a rally on Monday in Hartlepool, he and other ex-candidates were immediately locked out of their Brexit party e-mails and supporter databases.
While a majority of the former candidates who took to social media to express opinions seemed to back Farage’s argument that the move was necessary to protect Brexit, a small but vocal group complained about the move.
Julian Malins, a barrister who was due to stand in the Tory-held seat of Salisbury, tweeted: “I thought I had enlisted in Caesar’s army but it turned out to be the Grand Old Duke of York’s.”
Although it is a registered party, the Brexit party is structured as a company, with Farage and the party chair, Richard Tice, having near-total control. Those who have paid the party’s £25 joining fee become “registered supporters” rather than members, with no say over policy or other matters.
Farage had been under media pressure to stand down many of the 600-plus selected candidates, but his decision clearly came as an unwelcome surprise to some now ex-candidates.
Selkus, who was due to stand against Eleanor Laing, the long-time Conservative incumbent and deputy Speaker, said he was chatting to a voter at a party street stall when Farage made the announcement.
“A van driver pulled up next to us and asked what we were doing as he had just heard on the radio we weren’t running,” Selkus wrote. “After a quick verification online, myself and three volunteers put the street stand away.
“I don’t understand why Farage has betrayed my incredible volunteers and thousands of constituents who will have no one to vote for. I don’t understand why dedicated (candidates) were the last to know they had been stood down and locked out of their Brexit party e-mail accounts and supporter database.”
Robert Wheal, who had been due to stand in Arundel and South Downs, said Farage’s argument about protecting Brexit was “absolute codswallop”. He told LBC radio: “Brexit party supporters have worked their socks off for that party and he’s dropped them like a stone at 12 o’clock on Monday.”
Claire Mowbray, who was to have taken on Theresa May in Maidenhead, tweeted: “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.” She added: “I will be closing this Twitter account.” However, one widely-reported set of angry comments from an ex-candidate appears to have been an elaborate fraud.
After Farage made the announcement, a Twitter account named as being that of the party’s candidate for Crawley, Wayne Bayley, abused the Brexit Party leader, saying he had incurred £10,000 in costs and would now stand as an independent.
The account looked genuine and had been sending tweets in support of the Brexit Party since August. However, some posts appeared unlikely for a retired pilot, such as pro-Brexit lyrics sung to a tune by the Dutch Eurodance band Vengaboys.
Bayley told his local paper he was not responsible for the abusive tweets and the Brexit Party later confirmed the account was fake.
Earlier Farage branded Conservative calls for the Brexit Party to stand down in Labour marginal as “almost comical”, saying his party needs to get MPs into parliament to hold Boris Johnson’s feet to the fire.
The Brexit Party leader said he still intended to stand candidates in about 300 seats held by Labour and pro-Remain parties, having agreed to help the prime minister by withdrawing candidates in 317 seats won by the Tories in 2017.
However, he left the door open to holding back in other areas if Johnson made a further concession, such as standing down Conservatives in seats where they had no hope of winning.
“It’s almost comical. I’ve gifted the Conservative party nearly two dozen seats and I did it because I believe in Leave. If they believed in Leave, they would stand aside in Labour areas where the Conservative party hasn’t won in 100 years and will never win,” he told BBC Breakfast.
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