Ex-prime minister Gordon Brown has launched a fierce assault on Nigel Farage and claimed the Brexit Party leader is the “back-seat driver steering the Tory leadership race”.
The former Labour premier accused Mr Farage of representing a “toxic, divisive, intolerant ‘them-versus-us’ nationalism” as he called on Conservative candidates to disown the anti-EU politician.
In an article on his website – which he also set out in a speech in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, on Thursday – Mr Brown suggested those who backed the Brexit Party at last week’s EU elections might “think twice” about supporting Mr Farage after a “close and forensic scrutiny of what we do know about him”.
The Brexit Party topped the EU polls with nearly 32% of the vote last week, prompting Mr Farage to claim the party would repeat that success at a future general election if the UK didn’t leave the EU on 31 October.
The Brexit Party are also the bookies’ favourite to win next month’s Peterborough by-election, despite the seat having long been a Tory-Labour marginal.
Mr Brown claimed Mr Farage now espoused a view that it is “not patriotic to do anything other” than leave the EU with no deal this autumn.
With many of those competing for the Tory leadership having suggested they would countenance a no-deal Brexit, Mr Brown added Mr Farage is “setting the terms on which Conservatives will choose the next prime minister”.
“No deal by 31 October has become a test of patriotism that a panicked Conservative Party is obliging their leadership to pass,” Mr Brown said.
He said “what is now at stake is far bigger than Brexit: it is a fight against intolerance, prejudice, xenophobia and the manufacture of division.”
He continued: “Britain is now witnessing a Tory leadership contest the outcome of which will decide not just our relations with Europe but the direction of our country – and one in which Nigel Farage is, the back-seat driver steering the Tory leadership race.
“To the next prime minister – and indeed to all candidates for the Tory leadership – I say you have a fundamental choice: to run against him or race to the bottom with him.
“For when it comes to this toxic them-versus-us nationalism, no prime minister, indeed no candidate for such a national office, can be permitted to equivocate on what is unequivocally wrong.”
Mr Brown, who campaigned for Remain in at the 2016 EU referendum, claimed the “road to defeating Brexit starts with clarity about what kind of Britain we are seeking to build”.
He also repeated his call for “citizens’ assemblies” in order to take the Brexit debate “outside the Westminster bubble and beyond a deadlocked parliament”.
In response to Mr Brown’s comments, Mr Farage told Sky News: “Unlike Gordon Brown’s party we don’t tolerate antisemitism or negative, tribal politics.
“We believe in democracy, fair play and reaching out to a wider world beyond Europe.
“Brown sounds very scared of the Brexit Party – so he should be.”