Rattled Tories Briefed On Research Showing Farage Could Split Right Wing Vote
Exclusive: Conservative MPs have this week been left feeling unnerved by research showing that a possible return of Nigel Farage to the forefront of politics would do significant damage to their chances of winning the next general election.
The new analysis, which PoliticsHome understands has been shared privately with a number of senior government figures, will put more pressure on ministers to deal with Channel crossings, which have been at the centre of Farage's latest criticism of the government.
Tory MPs briefed on the research, which looks at a number of key battlegrounds at the next general election and is set to be made public in the coming weeks, came away worried that attacks by Farage over Channel crossings could lead to significant numbers of right wing votes being diverted away from the Conservatives to alternative parties.
Splitting the Conservative vote in this way would offer Labour an easier path into government. Labour has soared in the polls in recent weeks in the wake of the Downing Street party scandal, with Redfield & Wilton Strategies putting them 13 points ahead of the Tories on Monday.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has been under intense pressure to come up with ways of stopping people from attempting the perilous journey to the UK, with Conservative MPs complaining that it regularly comes up on the doorsteps.
The government was reportedly planning to make an announcement on Channel crossings this week as part of plans to shore up the Prime Minsiter's wavering leadership dubbed "Operation Red Meat".
Sky News reported on Monday that the Home Office had shot down a Downing Street proposal to use sonic weapons to deter people from attempting the journey. The canons, known as Long-Range Acoustic Devices, emit loud, high-frequency noise capable of making people vomit.
Farage, the leading Brexit campaigner and former leader of UKIP, has hinted at a return to politics in recent weeks while criticising the government over the number of people illegally making the journey from France to the UK. He has also attacked Boris Johnson's plans to raise tax and his net zero policies.
PoliticsHome understands that Farage standing as a candidate at the next general election is highly unlikely. Instead he plans to become a much more vocal and visible campaigner for the Reform Party – formerly the Brexit party, which was founded by Farage and renamed after the UK left the EU. It is currently led by Richard Tice.
In November, Farage wrote in The Telegraph that he would give "serious thought" to a comeback and that he had been approached by several financial donors encouraging him to do so.
Johnson is fighting to stay in Downing Street amid significant public backlash, with talk in the Conservative party already turning to a potential successor if he is ousted by Tory MPs.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss are widely seen as the frontrunners to win a leadership contest, but several other names are in the mix.
Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary who finished second to Johnson in the 2019 contest, on Tuesday told The House that his ambition to be Conservative party leader and Prime Minister had not "completely vanished".
Penny Mordaunt has recently emerged as a dark horse candidate among Conservative MPs, with an ally of the ex-Defence Secretary refusing to deny a future bid, PoliticsHome reported.
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