Tory MPs are asking the Brexit party not to run candidates in their seats at an early general election, according to the party’s chair, Richard Tice, as speculation mounts over the anti-EU party’s potential pacts in leave areas.
Tice said he received a frantic message from one Tory urging him not to stand a candidate in their constituency because they were facing a challenge from the Liberal Democrats. “It wasn’t the first; it won’t be the last,” he said.
The texter, who sent the message on Monday as MPs returned to Westminster amid early election speculation, said that as a committed Brexiter they should be spared a challenge from Nigel Farage’s Brexit party.
Tice, a businessman who co-founded the Leave.EU campaign group, said he had already received numerous requests from Tory MPs who are clearly anxious that the Brexit party will have more appeal for their constituents than Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.
The Brexit party is offering a “clean” break with the EU – in effect a no-deal arrangement. It has so far vetted 600 candidates for a general election and there is a presumption it is aiming to stand in all 650 seats. The party took 29 European parliament seats at the 2019 election and has four Welsh assembly seats.
Farage is still offering the government an alliance or “non-aggression pact”; as both parties want to quit the EU, there is concern that unless they stand aside for each other they might split the vote of Brexit-backing constituents and usher in an opposition party candidate who backs remain or a softer Brexit.
The Brexit party wants a free shot at Labour heartland seats and in return it has offered not to run where a Tory MP is enthusiastically backing its brand of Brexit or where a Tory has a reasonable chance at beating a Labour rival.
Without a genuine Brexit-backing majority in parliament, the stalemate in the Commons may continue, Farage has warned previously.
However, his offer has been robustly dismissed by a No 10 source who said Farage was “not fit” to be allowed near government.
The Brexit party is spending the next few days finalising seats for high-profile candidates such as Farage and Tice, who is an MEP for the East of England, and former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe.
As it makes more concrete election plans, it appears it is attempting to align itself with the Democratic Unionist party to form a bloc that could eventually “hold the balance of power” that the Tories would need to unlock a functioning majority.
DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr spoke at one of the Brexit party’s most recent rallies and they are said to have an extremely good relationship and to be working ever more closely together.
The Brexit party is aiming for up to 50 seats, but even if it returns a low number of MPs, a party source said the DUP had been a case in point at how powerful a small collection of MPs could be in shaping Brexit. The source said: “We’ve seen how influential those 10 seats are.”
There is an assumption that the DUP and Brexit party could unite with an offer for Johnson should he fall short of securing a majority in an election.