The Tories will “categorically” not enter any electoral pact with the UK Independence Party, party chairman Grant Shapps insisted yesterday after the idea was proposed by a senior colleague.
He poured cold water on a call from a party vice-chairman, Michael Fabricant, for an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union to be offered in return for the eurosceptic party not fighting marginal constituencies.
However, in contrast to David Cameron, Mr Shapps indicated such a referendum could be on the cards if Britain was unable to negotiate successfully a new relationship with the EU.
In a report for Mr Cameron, Mr Fabricant, a vice-chair for campaigning, suggested a deal with Ukip could help the Tories win at least 20 seats by stemming “the continued haemorrhage” of votes to Ukip.
“We cannot ignore the maths,” he said, warning that Ukip had become “a significant contributory factor in costing the Conservative Party victories in marginal seats”.
It was seized on by eurosceptic back-benchers to reinforce their push for voters to be offered the chance to quit the EU.
A Conservative Party spokesman said Mr Fabricant “doesn’t speak for the party on this issue”.
Mr Shapps, meanwhile, sought to play down the significance of recent mid-term successes for Ukip.
“I want to win the next election outright,” he said. “But I want to do that with Conservative candidates fighting and winning on their own ground.”