Professor Simon Usherwood on the Brexit Party resignations — This is a structural problem for Eurosceptics.
First published in December 2019.
Yesterday’s loss of 3 MEPs from the Brexit Party, after the expulsion of John Longworth, was driven by differences over electoral strategy: the rebels wanted to drop contesting seats where the Conservatives might beat Labour, rather than just the no-contest-of-sitting-Conservatives that Farage went for.
But this hides a deeper problem for parties motivated by Euroscepticism: you might be against something EU-y, but what are you for?
Euroscepticism is not an ideology, but a frame through which you can make pretty much any ideology work. That’s one big reason why it’s so popular: you can make it work whatever you believe in.
Hence, parties that are centred around Euroscepticism are necessarily broad churches. It’s also why their programmes tend to be rather vague too: it might be easy to diagnose a problem, less so to offer a cure.
The result is that differences of opinion are par for the course.
This was as true for UKIP in 2013 as it is for the Brexit Party today. Indeed, it was because of the problems with UKIP that Farage set up the Brexit Party to try to neuter disputes: the Brexit Party has no members, only supporters, so leadership get to decide everything (so half the Italian 5 Star Movement model, then).
However, as with UKIP, the existence of MEPs creates a de facto alternative power base in the party, with funding and resource to back it up. It is hardly surprising that 29 people with time on their hands decide to have views on stuff back home.
The only difference this time is that the scale of the challenge to the party leader is smaller as there is no internal structure to try and capture, hence the exits yesterday.
It is worth also keeping in mind that this might all mean nothing if the UK withdrawal happens in January and all the MEPs lose their seats: then everything comes back to Farage and whatever he has planned next.
It also important to note that someone is putting a lot of effort into publicising these resignations, which is unusual. It points to the lack of unity across what might be termed the ‘Eurosceptic Movement’.
Finally, here is a small figure showing the recurrent problem for UKIP/Brexit Party:
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