Britain’s UK Independence Party could do a deal with Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives after May’s election if its demands over a referendum on membership in the European Union are met, its leader, Nigel Farage, said on Sunday.
The election is expected to be one of the most closely fought in modern British history. Many polls show both the right-leaning Conservatives and the opposition Labour party will struggle to win an outright majority.
Cameron, whose party has ruled in coalition with the Liberal Democrats since 2010, has promised to renegotiate Britain’s ties with the 28-nation EU, then hold a referendum by 2017 on remaining a member, if he is re-elected.
Farage said it would be unlikely the anti-EU UKIP, who won last year’s European elections in Britain and have two representatives in the British parliament, would go into a formal coalition. But it could help prop up a minority government.
“We couldn’t do any deal with (Labour leader) Ed Miliband all the while he is turning his back on a referendum … We could potentially do a deal with Mr Cameron on this, but not unless the timing and the terms of the referendum were right,” Farage told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday.
UKIP’s demands would include holding the referendum immediately, he said, with equal spending limits for both sides of the campaign and a guarantee that only British citizens would be allowed to vote.
Cameron has said he would like to bring forward the timing of a referendum if possible.
UKIP was dealt a blow on Saturday when Amjad Bashir, a senior member and one of its MEPs, defected to the Conservatives. Bashir called his old party “amateur”, hours after UKIP said they were suspending him due to “extremely serious offences”.
Farage said on Sunday the party had been “increasingly alarmed” by Amjad Bashir’s behaviour over the last few months. Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps said that was part of UKIP’s “operation to limit damage”.
The UKIP leader also defended his party’s secretary, who was quoted in Sunday newspapers as saying: “People talk about UKIP being bigots. There are hundreds of thousands of bigots in the United Kingdom and they too deserve representation”.
“The fact that party secretary goes and has a laugh and a joke in the pub, that is fine by me,” said Farage.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron promised Britons an in/out EU membership referendum if he is re-elected this year.
The UK Independence Party was the most successful British party in the European elections. The Eurosceptic party is now looking to build on that success, adding to the pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron ahead of May's national election.