Nigel Farage has pulled back on his “drop the deal” threat issued to Boris Johnson in an attempt to get the prime minister to sign an election pact with the Brexit party.
Farage began the party’s election campaign last week saying he would put up candidates across the country unless Johnson abandoned his Brexit deal and formed a leave alliance.
He said Conservatives had approached him to say they wanted to see a “compromise” between their party and the Brexit party, which is threatening to take both Labour and Tory votes in key marginals at the general election.
Last week Farage had offered Johnson a deal in which his party would stand down in seats where the Tory candidate believed in a no-deal or “clean-Brexit” and would want to abandon Johnson’s deal. In return, they wanted a free run at Labour heartland seats.
Farage has been criticised for the logic in his strategy to go after the vote in Labour heartlands as the last two elections saw the majority of Ukip’s vote come from ex-Tory voters. His last significant inroad into the Labour vote was in 2010.
Speaking to the Guardian in Blackwood, South Wales, Farage said he would be willing to do a deal with the Tories if they accepted two principles – dropping the clause which allows further Brexit extension and that the deal is treated as a starting point for a trade agreement, with no political elements.
“I think the deal is shocking because it is just not Brexit but is there a way from a leaver’s perspective we can perhaps get this into a position that might be manageable? I think if you drop the clause that allows for endless extension that’s a huge head start, and, secondly, that this is a trade negotiation, not one based on political and economic alignment,” he said.
Asked if his initial starting point with the Tories had been too hardline, he laughed and responded: “How many negotiations have you done?”
All political parties have until 14 November to submit their nominations for candidates.
Farage said there was still time for Johnson to agree to his pact, otherwise his party woud stand in almost all seats in England and Wales. They are still to decide where they want to stand in Scotland.
He said Conservatives had leaned on him to try to find terms the two parties could agree with to avoid splitting the leave vote in marginals.
“A lot of the Conservative Eurosceptics who all voted for this [deal], even though they hate it… they’ve said to me we have to find some sense of compromise and this is what I’ve suggested and they all say ‘you know what, actually that works’.
“It’s up to Boris Johnson’s team as to whether they want to do that or not.”
Farage faced a mixed reception as he toured the Islwyn, Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly constituencies. He spoke to more than 100 supporters in a community hall in Little Mill, outside Pontypool, before meeting voters at Ebbw Vale market and Blackwood. On Friday night he was due to address a rally in Newport.
He was heckled as he visited Ebbw Vale by the former Labour council leader Hedley McCarthy, who shouted: “Bevan would turn in his grave.”
The area was represented by Aneurin Bevan between 1929 and 1960, and by former Labour leader Michael Foot from that year until 1992.
“I think it’s outrageous he’s come here. This is the home of Aneurin Bevan and the birthplace of the NHS and this is the guy that wants an insurance system instead,” McCarthy said.
Jennifer Morgan, 71, a local resident and voluntary worker who votes Labour, said: “He’s winding people up coming here.”
She said he wanted to sell the NHS off to Donald Trump.
On accusations he wants to privatise the NHS and his presence in Bevan’s former seat, Farage said: “Number one, Bevan would have been a leaver. No question.
“A, the NHS is not for sale; B, Trump has said it’s not going to be on the table in negotiations very emphatically to be the other week; and C, actually I think for high earners to be encouraged to opt out would be a very, very good idea.”
Rebecca Shaw, 48, who attended the Little Hill event and is a Brexit party member who used to back the Greens, said: “We feel that we can’t really talk about being members of the Brexit party or we get looks at us like we’re racist or thick and it’s got to stop.
“Every single Labour supporter I know round here, like life-long Labour supporters, they are saying they won’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn now.”
Blanaeu Gwent candidate Richard Taylor, a local self-employed businessman, said he was a Labour voter who joined the Brexit party after getting frustrated that Britain had still not left the EU.
He is challenging Labour’s Nick Smith, who has an 11,000 majority. In 2017 the Ukip candidate, when the party was under Farage, got 900 votes.
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