Theresa May did not respond directly when asked whether she would consider such a role, but refused to rule out backing a British exit.
Farage was responding to a Survation poll, commissioned by the cross-party Leave.EU campaign, which suggested that the public thought May would be the best choice to lead the official out campaign.
The poll asked which political figure would be best qualified to make the argument for “controlling our own borders and setting our own immigration policy”. A total of 22.2% thought the home secretary would be best suited to the role, compared with 18.6% who backed Farage. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who has previously hinted that he may come out in favour of leaving the union, came in third on 14%.
“I have been campaigning on this for years,” said Farage, speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. “I was very pleased that the poll said that I could bring people into this campaign from the Labour party, from undecideds, Conservativesetc.
“The point about Theresa May is this: she’s the longest-serving home secretary of modern times; she has presided over the most disastrous immigration figures. If she was to say, ‘Look, I’ve been here, I’ve been at the sharp end. We cannot do this as EU members. We need a better way,’ of course the public would come behind it. And do you know what? So would I too … I would be absolutely delighted, of course.”
Also speaking to the BBC, May refused to rule out backing Brexit. Asked if she would consider leading the out campaign, she said: “The government was elected on a mandate to actually renegotiate within Europe and that’s what I’m doing.
“You know there are some people who say we should be in at all costs, there are people who say we should be out at all costs. Actually what I say is let’s do this renegotiation, let’s see what reform we can bring about as a result of that renegotiation and then put it to the British people.”
May used her Conservative party conference speech to signal that EU freedom of movement rules should be renegotiated, which has been ruled out by the European commission and is no longer on David Cameron’s list of demands. If she were to back the campaign to leave the EU, it could help her rumoured party leadership ambitions, drawing a clear dividing line between her and her rival George Osborne and making her more popular with Eurosceptic backbenchers.
Campaign groups are competing to be given official status in the campaigns for and against EU membership in order to be given a government grant and higher spending limits. Each official campaign will be allowed to spend up to £7m, including as much as £600,000 of government money. All other campaigns will be restricted to spending £700,000.
The Vote Leave campaign is widely thought to have the best chance of winning the official “leave” campaign designation from the Electoral Commission. The campaign is being supported by campaign groups Business for Britain, Labour Leave and Conservatives for Britain.
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Sunday 1st November 2015 12.23 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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