Is Nigel Farage's Ukraine gaffe the first mistake of his election campaign?

21 June 2024, 22:23 | Updated: 22 June 2024, 01:23

Has Nigel Farage made his first blunder of the election campaign?

His incendiary claim that the West provoked the war in Ukraine will be offensive to many people.

It may make some of those Conservative supporters considering switching to Reform UK on 4 July think again.

And a clarification in a late-night tweet appearing to row back from his earlier claims in a TV interview suggests he may have realised he went too far.

"I am one of the few figures that have been consistent and honest about the war with Russia," he posted on X.

"Putin was wrong to invade a sovereign nation and the EU was wrong to expand eastward.

"The sooner we realise this, the closer we will be to ending the war and delivering peace."

His earlier comments were straight out of the playbook of his friend Donald Trump.

But if it was his intention to provoke a row and gain him publicity, it may have backfired this time.

Mr Farage claimed in his interview he warned back in 2014, when he was a UKIP member of the European Parliament, that there would be a war in Ukraine.

He blamed the "ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union" for giving Vladimir Putin a reason to go to war.

His critics will say it's not just a conspiracy theory, but a dangerous crackpot theory of the sort Mr Trump would peddle.

It's also a claim that ought to make those Conservatives who want to welcome Mr Farage into their party with open arms change their mind.

His comments do appear, however, to have brought about a change in the way senior Tories have treated Mr Farage in this election campaign and made them wake up to his threat.

Until now Rishi Sunak and his senior colleagues have barely laid a glove on the politician who has vowed to destroy their party and take over as the official opposition to Labour.

Mr Sunak has - feebly - said he understands the anger of those Conservatives who are frustrated by his government's record and are tempted to vote for Reform UK.

The most that cabinet ministers have said against Mr Farage up to now is that a vote for Reform UK is a vote to put Sir Keir Starmer in Downing Street with a "super-majority".

That approach seems to have changed now.

James Cleverly, surely a leadership contender in the event of a Tory defeat, led the criticism, but even he could have gone further.

"Just Farage echoing Putin's vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine," he said.

Really? Is that it, Mr Cleverly?

Sir Liam Fox, a former defence secretary, said: "The West did not 'provoke this war' in Ukraine and it is shocking that Nigel Farage should say so."

It was Ben Wallace, the most recent former defence secretary, who - not for the first time - said what other senior Tories should have said in condemning Mr Farage.

He said the Reform UK leader was "voicing sympathy for a dictator who deployed nerve agents on the streets of Britain" - a reference to the Salisbury poisoning attack.

And in a jibe no doubt intended to rile Mr Farage, he said he was "more Chamberlain than Churchill".

That should have the Reform UK leader choking on his warm beer.