UKIP leader Nigel Farage has played down suggestions of a deal with the TUV to field a single candidate in next year’s European election in Northern Ireland.
Mr Farage, who was in Belfast yesterday for the first time since welcoming former UUP MLA David McNarry to the party last October, said that there will definitely be a UKIP candidate.
But, amid calls from some Tories in England for a deal with UKIP in certain seats, Mr Farage said that he preferred the party to stand on its own two feet.
The possibility of a pact emerged in November when UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall used a speech at the TUV conference to appeal for the party to stand aside in favour of UKIP so as not to split the anti-EU vote.
During a visit to the News Letter offices yesterday, Mr Farage said that Mr Nuttall was “certainly speculating” about the TUV standing aside in favour of UKIP but said that “all over the UK there’s all sorts of talk about what deals we could do with all sorts of people but I think, to be honest with you, my view is that we are our own entity, we’re our own party”.
Mr Farage said that it was “more likely” that the party – which now claims to have 300 members in Northern Ireland – would stand alone next year but added: “I do believe in devolved powers within UKIP and ultimately these guys [David McNarry and Henry Reilly] will decide.
“Provided they don’t do anything that brings the party nationally into disrepute, or contradicts the big principles, then I will let them get on with it.”
He said that UKIP believed in allowing local activists to make decisions because the centralisation of power around a handful of individuals in political parties was “something that’s gone wrong with politics”.
In 2011, Mr Farage told the News Letter that he was confident of winning seats, but got just over 4,000 votes across the Province. He said there was “no question that was a disappointment” but that since then the party was booming.
In an apparent reference to the DUP – which has historically been very Eurosceptic – he said that some who had once been very anti-EU were now “a bit more establishment”.
Most of the DUP’s MPs are, like Mr Farage, members of the ‘Better Off Out’ campaign which calls for immediate withdrawal from the EU, but he said: “But that’s not the position of the leadership. The First Minister seems to believe that EU membership is terribly important...our message to the electorate will be very clear: it’s time to get out.”