NIGEL FARAGE last night called on North-East Labour voters to abandon their traditional party to ensure that the Conservatives get Brexit done.

On a day spent in the region, he announced he had formed a “unilateral leave alliance” and would not be fielding Brexit Party candidates in the 317 seats held by the Conservatives to avoid splitting the leave vote.

Instead, he turned vicious fire on Labour, whose heartland seats he now needs to win if the party is to have a voice in Westminster.

The Northern Echo: Brexit Party rally at Sedgefield Racecourse. Picture: Stuart BoultonBrexit Party rally at Sedgefield Racecourse. Picture: Stuart Boulton

“The Labour Party has taken areas like the North-East for granted for far too long,” he told a rally last night at Sedgefield racecourse. “Now’s your chance to vote for people who stand up for your interests and your rights.”

Mr Farage had previously threatened to stand candidates in some 600 seats unless Boris Johnson abandoned his withdrawal deal with the EU. When his offer of a “leave alliance” was rejected by the Conservatives, he came under intense pressure from within his own party not to risk splitting the pro-Brexit vote.

The Northern Echo: Nigel Farage at Sedgefield Racecourse. Picture: Stuart BoultonNigel Farage at Sedgefield Racecourse. Picture: Stuart Boulton

At Sedgefield last night, he said Mr Johnson had also come under intense pressure to modify his Brexit position, which had happened on Sunday evening when Mr Johnson had released a video saying he would not extend the planned transition period beyond the end of 2020 and that he would seek a "super-Canada-plus" style free trade agreement with the EU.

Mr Farage told The Northern Echo that this was a “significant change of direction” and that he had decided to put “country before party”.

“We have moved the Conservative Party to a much more reasonable position,” he told enthusiastic supporters on his second visit to Sedgefield in three weeks. “Now we have got to keep them honest. I know it is a tall order, but only we can do it. There will only be a genuine Brexit if the Brexit Party is represented (in Westminster).”

The Northern Echo: Brexit Party rally at Sedgefield Racecourse. Picture: Stuart BoultonBrexit Party rally at Sedgefield Racecourse. Picture: Stuart Boulton

Mr Johnson flatly denied that he had called Mr Farage to agree a deal, and said: "I'm glad that there's a recognition that there's only one way to get Brexit done and that's to vote for the Conservatives.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Farage's move could pave the way to a US trade deal, giving American pharmaceutical companies access to the NHS.

"One week ago Donald Trump told Nigel Farage to make a pact with Boris Johnson. Today, Trump got his wish. This Trump alliance is Thatcherism on steroids," he said.

Lib Dem deputy leader Sir Ed Davey said: "Nigel Farage standing down shows the Conservatives and the Brexit party are now one and the same."

The Northern Echo: Brexit Party rally at Sedgefield Racecourse. Picture: Stuart BoultonBrexit Party rally at Sedgefield Racecourse. Picture: Stuart Boulton

Pollsters reckon the surprise move will benefit the Conservatives most where their biggest challengers are the pro-remain Lib Dems. It is uncertain how the move will play out in Labour-held seats in the North-East where the Conservatives are usually the biggest second-placed party, because there will still be two leave parties taking on the incumbent Labour MP.

Mr Farage refused to be drawn on how many seats he even hoped to win in a leave-supporting area like the North-East, but his outspoken assault on Labour clearly suggests that in places like Bishop Auckland, Hartlepool and Stockton South his candidates are in the running.

“Some seats Labour has a very big majority so it is going to need a very big change for something to happen, but we are living through a period of profound political change,” he said. “What is interesting about this campaign you are going to see a lot more thought about who people vote for seat by seat. Leave voters will work it out tactically.”