Nigel Farage has said he wants to help lead the “ground game” of the campaign to leave the European Union alongside Labour and Conservative politicians, signalling he wants to position himself as the figurehead for the no camp in the referendum.
Farage’s determination to be at the forefront of the campaign to leave the EU will alarm some Eurosceptics, including some in his own party, who are concerned the Ukip leader is a divisive character unlikely to win over moderates.
“We are the people that can fight the ground game. We’re the people that can put leaflets through doors, we’re the people who can put posters in farmers’ fields,” Farage told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We’re the people that can organise and hold a massive series of public meetings, which I’m going to be doing with my colleagues from September.
“The yes campaign has started. Every single week we get a statement from a big business saying Britain must vote yes.
“I’m not going to wait around until Christmas waiting for them to get started. We’re up against big forces and people need to put aside personal jealousies and animosities and work together. Ukip can bring half the votes needed to win this referendum.”
His comments will be uncomfortable for several Eurosceptics, including some in his own party, who had hoped he would take more of a back seat.
Former Ukip treasurer Stuart Wheeler wrote in the Spectator that he hoped the lead would be taken by someone with a “quiet, well-reasoned approach to convince the waverers”. Farage, he added, should “soften his tone and cooperate with whoever is leading the out campaign”.
The party’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, has also implied his leader should not be the public face of the no campaign. “I don’t think any politician should be fronting the referendum campaign,” he told the Express last month. “If a politician says: ‘Vote for X’, people instantly think the politician has a vested interest in that.”
Carswell has previously mooted that a business leader, like vacuum cleaner tycoon James Dyson, would be best placed as a figurehead for the campaign to leave the EU.
“That simply isn’t going to happen,” he said.
But Farage later told the BBC programme he envisaged that his party would “take the lead” but not dominate the no campaign.
“I think we do need a group of businessmen, a group of cross-party people that form a no umbrella under which Labour, Conservative Eurosceptics, sports stars, whatever it is, can operate,” he said.
“I’m not saying Ukip on their own can win this referendum, but what I am saying is that Ukip is a very important part and component of it.”
Farage said he questioned whether Conservative Eurosceptics would vote with their party or for what they believe in. “My worry is that many of these well known Tory eurosceptics, I suspect their loyalty to the Conservative party may in the end be greater than their loyalty to the country and to this cause,” he said.
“I can see a stitch-up around this term ‘associate membership’. That’s what Cameron is going to come back with and, frankly, it won’t mean much.”
Farage said that those who wanted an “end to the total free movement of people” knew there was no point waiting for David Cameron to complete his renegotiation of the terms of Britain membership.
“So, as far as we are concerned, there is nothing Mr Cameron is asking for that could be acceptable,” he said.
This article was written by Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Saturday 6th June 2015 11.43 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010