Nigel Farage appears to have u-turned about backing one Brexit campaign. At the party’s recent conference in Doncaster, the Ukip leader said he would be standing ‘hand in hand’ with Arron Banks and his Leave.EU group. But on the Sunday Politics yesterday, he gave equal weighting to Vote Leave, the other Brexit effort which launched on Thursday evening out of the Business for Britain campaign group:
‘I support both of them. I listened to what Vote Leave had to say last week. They’re a Westminster based group, making business arguments. Arguing, as I’ve done in this interview, for us to be free to make our own trade deals. That is of value.
‘Leave.EU is an entirely different thing, aiming at a completely different audience. They are talking about our ability to control our country, the ability to control our borders and they’re reaching out to millions of ordinary people, employing business techniques, the likes of which have never been seen in British politics, and they’ve signed up over 200,000 people in the first 8 weeks of their existence.
‘These are two campaigns that are actually going for two different market audiences. I don’t see them as contradictory. Actually I see them as complementary.’
There are two explanations as to why Farage changed his position. Since the leader’s ‘unresignation’ after May’s general election, Coffee House understands it has been a turbulent time internally for the leader. As well having lost a good chunk of its members, Farage had to say farewell to a key lieutenant: Raheem Kassam, his former chief of staff. Some in Ukip have been concerned about Farage’s efforts to bounce the party into solely backing Arron Banks’ Leave.EU campaign and have urged him to consider working with Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings.
The upcoming elections to the party’s National Executive Committee have apparently been a crucial factor in Farage’s efforts to neutralise Ukip’s position on the referendum. There are twelve members of the committee and about half of them are currently up for reelection. In the past, a couple of names have been put forward but this time around, there have been over 40 applications Many of the candidates are not Farage lackeys. Instead they are battle-hardened Kippers who believe the party needs to act with a little more subtly because there is now more competition for being the Eurosceptic voice in British politics — as well as more competition for the anti-Westminster vote.
But others in Ukip say the shift has nothing to do with Farage’s internal position — instead it is the result of Elliott/Cummings’ decision to launch Vote Leave, move away from Business for Britain and fully back a Brexit. A Ukip spokesman says:
‘Nigel has said he will support anyone who wants to leave. Up until this weekend, the Business for Britain lot made it explicit they hadn’t come to a conclusion. QED, he now supports them. This is the major change.’
Whichever explanation is true, Ukip is definitely repositioning itself. Banks has been a key donor to Ukip and remains one of Farage’s key allies. Although there have been conversations over the past few days between Ukip and the Vote Leave camp, Farage will still naturally side with Leave.EU. While the disagreements between the different factions continues, Ukip appears to be standing back, waiting until the infighting calms down and it can find its natural place in the referendum.