By Max Colchester 

LONDON -- Britain's euroskeptic Brexit Party said it wouldn't contest hundreds of Conservative Party-held districts in next month's U.K. election, boosting Prime Minister Boris Johnson's chances of re-election.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said his upstart party wouldn't field candidates in 317 seats won by the Conservatives in the 2017 election to avoid splintering the pro-Brexit vote and paving the way for anti-Brexit parties to form a coalition to call another referendum.

"I think our announcement today prevents a second referendum from happening," Mr. Farage said. "That is the single most important thing for our country."

The British pound moved 0.8% higher against the U.S. dollar following the announcement.

The move means Mr. Farage has climbed down from an ultimatum he made earlier this month, when he said his party would contest all 650 seats in the House of Commons unless Mr. Johnson ditched the Brexit divorce deal he negotiated with Brussels.

Pollsters said Mr. Farage's party presented a threat to Mr. Johnson's electoral chances, raising the odds that the current prime minister would fail to win an outright majority in the Dec. 12 ballot. Mr. Johnson had faced criticism from some of his party's donors who said he risked imperiling the Brexit project altogether if the leave vote was split.

Mr. Farage, a former commodities trader, has made a career out of transforming political dissatisfaction into protest votes. The onetime leader of the UK Independence Party has railed against the EU despite being a member of the European Parliament since 1999. He launched the "Brexit Party" in April as a reaction to the British Parliament's failure to deliver on the U.K.'s split with the EU. He has since rallied President Trump to his cause. Mr. Trump recently urged Mr. Farage and Mr. Johnson to join forces in the election

Mr. Farage's decision will help Mr. Johnson by solidifying the Conservatives' position in several-dozen pro-Brexit districts where they hold a slim majority. "We welcome Nigel Farage's recognition that another gridlocked hung parliament is the greatest threat to getting Brexit done," Mr. Johnson said in a statement.

However the Brexit Party will continue to challenge in districts held by opposition Labour or Liberal Democratic parties. Mr. Johnson needs to pick up several of these seats if he is to get a majority.

Labour says it would renegotiate Mr. Johnson's deal and put it to another referendum that would include the option to remain. The Liberal Democrats say they would reverse Brexit if they form a government -- very unlikely given current opinion polling -- but would back a second referendum too.

Mr. Farage's criticism of Mr. Johnson's Brexit deal has been a headache for the Conservatives until now, by repeatedly dragging attention back to the detail of the divorce deal he negotiated last month with the European Union. So far, Mr. Johnson's campaign has focused on getting Brexit finished, rather than on the advantages of the deal he negotiated.

The government hasn't published economic analysis of the impact of the deal, which would see the U.K. break close ties with its largest trading partner. The Labour Party says the divorce would damage the British economy. It also results in a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea, something which Mr. Johnson had previously said was unacceptable to the unity of the U.K.

Mr. Farage has criticized the deal, saying it simply paves the way for yet more negotiations with Brussels and doesn't offer a quick break from the trade bloc. Under the agreement hammered out by Mr. Johnson, the U.K. will effectively remain aligned with EU rules until it has signed a trade deal with the bloc. That transition period could run until 2022. "This isn't Brexit," said Mr. Farage last week.

Since Mr. Farage issued his threat, government officials have hardened their tone on Europe. Mr. Johnson has pledged to negotiate a trade deal with the bloc by the end of 2020 and said the country won't extend its negotiations beyond that date. If a trade deal isn't ready by that date, then Britain could abruptly break away from its biggest trading partner.

Mr. Johnson has also pledged to negotiate a trade deal with the EU that allows the U.K. to diverge from the EU's rules and regulations. "Well that actually sounds a bit more like the Brexit we voted for," Mr. Farage told an applauding crowd.

The Conservative Party still faces the difficult task of winning over blue-collar Labour voting strongholds. Mr. Johnson's bet: people care about completing Brexit more than they care about historic political allegiances. The party will again butt up against Brexit Party candidates in those districts.

To continue applying pressure on the Conservative's, however, Mr. Farage admitted his party would need to win seats in the coming election. He isn't standing for election himself. He has tried unsuccessfully on seven occasions to become a British member of Parliament.

Write to Max Colchester at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 11, 2019 10:46 ET (15:46 GMT)

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