UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Nigel Farage said he was ready to do an electoral deal with the Conservatives in return for a promise “written in blood” of an in/out referendum on British membership of the European Union (EU).
Mr Farage denied reports that he was offering the Tories a deal under which Ukip would give Conservative candidates a clear run at the 2015 election in return for a referendum pledge, and promised members that he would not “sell short” the party.
But in his keynote speech to the Ukip annual conference in Birmingham, he said it would be “silly” of Ukip not to consider any offers made by the Conservatives – or even Labour.
He predicted that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg would be appointed a European Commissioner ahead of the election, leaving the Tories facing a possible coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats under a more left-wing leader like Vince Cable or Tim Farron, and in need of allies.
Mr Farage told delegates: “If an opportunity came which meant that we could get this country closer to walking through a door marked ‘UK independence’, if we had an opportunity to do something that was in our national interest, it would be silly not at least to consider it.
“Is that going to happen? I don’t know. As the general election approaches, people will be looking for supporters.
“But all this talk of a deal with the Conservatives hasn’t come from me. It has come from members of the Conservative Party saying to David Cameron, ‘Look, the Lib Dems are going to get rid of Clegg, because you are going to make him the European Commissioner in November 2014 to replace Baroness Ashton, and the Lib Dems under Vince Cable or Tim Farron will look to do a deal with Labour, and if Ukip are on 10 per cent or more in the polls, you must look to do a deal with Ukip’.
“That’s where this whole supposed negotiation comes from.”
Mr Farage insisted that Ukip would remain an independent and distinctive political party, fighting elections for police commissioners this year, as well as parliamentary by-elections, county council elections and the 2014 European Parliament elections, when observers believe they could finish second or even first.
He said he might not even be willing to accept the promise of a referendum, recalling that Mr Cameron offered a “cast-iron guarantee” of a national vote on the Lisbon Treaty before the 2010 election.
He said: “You have my absolute assurance that I am not going to sell this party short for any political gain – there’s absolutely no way on earth that I would do that.
“There are one or two people in politics who make promises and then break them, so I don’t think a cast-iron guarantee would satisfy Ukip. I think, at a minimum, it would have to be written in blood.”