Brexit: 40 per cent of Tory councillors to back Farage's new party in EU elections as revolt against May grows

Three-quarters of Tory councillors want prime minister to quit, a survey finds – while 96 per cent say Brexit crisis has damaged party

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 21 April 2019 12:38 BST
Nigel Farage attends Brexit Party launch event in Coventry: 'the fightback begins today'

A staggering 40 per cent of Conservative councillors say they will back Nigel Farage's new Brexit Party in the European elections, in a fresh grassroots revolt against Theresa May.

Three-quarters of Tory councillors want the prime minister to quit, a survey found – while an overwhelming 96 per cent believe their party has been damaged by the Brexit stalemate.

The devastating results come after one local Conservative group took the extraordinary step of refusing to help with the 23 May elections – insisting they “should not be happening”.

And they come ahead of a fresh push, when parliament resumes on Tuesday, to change party rules to enable MPs to force Ms May out of No 10 this summer.

The 1922 Committee of backbench MPs will meet to discuss removing the ban on a fresh no-confidence vote within 12 months of the last challenge – which currently prevents it happening before December.

Meanwhile, Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, attacked participation in the European elections, warning 50 “disruptive and resentful” British MEPs were heading to Brussels.

The EU would suffer a knock-on effect at the highest levels because the make-up of the new parliament would have an effect on the formation of the next European Commission, he said.

Mr Farage only launched his Brexit Party 9 days ago, but one poll last week put its support at 27 per cent – well ahead of both Labour (22 per cent) and the Tories (15 per cent).

At a rally on Saturday, Mr Farage said: “I will do my best to upset and irritate every single European leader. I promise to be more obstructive and difficult than I have ever been in previous times.”

And he told The Sunday Telegraph that “millions of natural Tory voters have said emphatically that they will never vote Conservative again”.

“My strong sense is that they mean it,” he added. “Far from being seen as the party to solve the EU question, the Tories are now actively regarded by a growing number of people as being a major part of the problem.”

The anger of Tory councillors was revealed when Survation questioned 781 local elected representatives for The Mail on Sunday, between April 17 and 19.

Researchers were bombarded with vitriolic remarks including: “The Conservative Party is dead. It will take a strong leader to dredge it out of the mud.”

Another councillor said: “For God's sake get on with it [Brexit] - it is killing us on the doorstep.”

Of Tory councillors who said they were certain to vote in the elections, 52 per cent said they would vote for their own party, while 40 per cent would vote for the Brexit Party.

If Boris Johnson was prime minister, the proportion voting Tory would rise to 65 per cent and 22 per cent would vote for Mr Farage.

The election of 73 UK MEPs is almost certain to go ahead next month, the price the EU demanded for agreeing an extension to the Article 50 process until 31 October.

They will leave Brussels if the Commons ratifies the withdrawal agreement, but – with Brexiteer anger growing and the talks with Labour on the brink of collapse – that looks increasingly unlikely.

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