Conservative candidates across the country have been privately giving Ukip assurances that they will push for a decisive Brexit in order to get their rivals not to field a candidate, a senior Ukip spokesman has said.
Patrick O’Flynn, the party’s economics spokesman, said Ukip could have managed to field candidates across the country but chose to stand only 377 because of promises made to its local branches by many pro-Brexit Conservative candidates and two Labour candidates.
His claim suggests a number of Conservative MPs and candidates have in effect made pacts with Ukip in their local area, without publicly informing their voters.
The only Tory to go public about his deal so far is Philip Hollobone, who is seeking re-election as MP for Kettering, and has promised to meet local Ukip members “every three months or when mutually agreed to discuss the progress of Brexit and provide a forum for questions, answers and feedback relating to Brexit”.
The pacts pose a serious threat to Labour, as dozens of the party’s MPs defending marginal seats have majorities smaller than the Ukip vote from 2015 in their constitutency.
O’Flynn made the remarks after a speech attacking the Conservatives for their approach to the economy, arguing the self-employed should not vote for a party that will put up national insurance for them, as that was like “handing the chancellor the very dagger he is planning to plunge into your back”.
Asked how Ukip could lambast the Conservatives while it is in effect helping so many of its candidates, he said the party has been “guided by our branches” that have been speaking to Tory MPs.
“Our branches have had conversations with sitting Conservative members, Labour members as well in the case of Kate Hoey and Kelvin Hopkins, and Conservative candidates where a Brexit-supporting candidate is a narrow second to a remain MP,” O’Flynn said.
“They have been given assurances and I would suggest we’ve put our country before our party in standing aside in those seats. It does place a very heavy burden of responsibility on the people who will benefit from that to stay true to the agenda and meet the assurances they have given. We could see a big swing of opinion a few years down the line if people who’ve been stood aside for don’t remain true to what the left describe as a hard Brexit and what the rest of us describe as Brexit.”
O’Flynn was also pressed on whether Ukip would eventually fold into the Conservative party, following signs at the local elections that many of its former voters have gone over to Theresa May’s party now that she is pursuing Brexit and lower immigration.
The Ukip MEP said he was “almost certain that’s not going to happen”.
“It’s perfectly possible for people to move from the Conservatives to Ukip and from Ukip to the Conseratives in the ebb and flow of politics. But I’m absolutely certain a Ukip-distinctive party will continue picking up items in the political agenda whether that is the foreign aid bill, the cost of underfunding Britain’s NHS, whether it’s being bold on the integration agenda.”
He said the party would continue even if it wins no seats at the election, claiming it has a “cluster of target seats”, without naming which ones.
“We are on the way to creating a political microclimate in some places and we would hope to get people benefiting from that over the line,” O’Flynn said.
Ukip is not expected to win any seats at the election, after failing to get Nigel Farage elected in South Thanet in 2015. It only managed to see Douglas Carswell, a former Tory MP, reelected in Clacton, but he has now left the party and supports the Conservatives once more.