Sunak was offered a deal to stop Farage and decided to reject it

Exclusive: A late bid was made to broker a deal between Sunak and Reform which could have saved scores of Tory MPs

David Maddox
Political editor
Wednesday 05 June 2024 16:25 BST
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Rishi Sunak could have avoided the expected election catastrophe facing him and the Conservative Party if he had agreed to make a deal with Nigel Farage.

The Independent has learnt that Tory Brexiteer MP Andrea Jenkyns and former Leave.EU communications director Andy Wigmore attempted to broker a deal between the Tories and Reform.

Sources have suggested that Mr Sunak “was interested” but dissuaded from going ahead by his key advisers.

Around six weeks before the prime minister made his rain-sodden announcement of a snap election on the steps of Downing Street, he is understood to have met with Ms Jenkyns who presented him with a plan to save the Tories.

Nigel Farage arrives in Clacton
Nigel Farage arrives in Clacton (James Manning/PA Wire)

While Ms Jenkyns did not wish to comment on that story, she has in the past publicly called for the party to get Mr Farage involved, bring back Boris Johnson, bring in right-wingers through a major reshuffle, and have some more “red meat” right-wing policies.

Around the same time, Mr Wigmore had a meeting with one of the prime minister’s key lieutenants, Craig Williams, the MP for Montgomeryshire and parliamentary private secretary to the prime minister.

One issue that is understood to have been pushed was a proposal, to be put at the heart of the next election manifesto, to either commit to leaving the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) or seeking to reform it.

The Independent has been led to understand that both meetings were “extremely positive”, particularly on the ECHR.

Mr Williams is said to have been willing to push the idea and Mr Sunak was interested enough to meet with Ms Jenkyns.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak may have missed out on a deal
Prime minister Rishi Sunak may have missed out on a deal (AFP/Getty)

Around the same time, private meetings were being held with Mr Farage and Richard Tice, who was then Reform UK leader.

Someone with knowledge of the talks said: “There was a deal to be done but Sunak was overruled or dissuaded by his advisers.”

Reflecting on Mr Farage’s announcement that he will run in Clacton, the source said: “All of this was unnecessary. It could have been stopped”.

Chief of staff Liam Booth-Smith and political secretary James Forsyth are seen as the two main culprits in persuading Mr Sunak not to entertain the idea.

But others, including chief whip Simon Hart and chairman Richard Holden, were also said to be opposed to the proposal.

Cheers! Nigel Farage at his birthday party with Aaron Banks, finger-flipping ex-minister Andrea Jenkyns... and who is that in the background?
Cheers! Nigel Farage at his birthday party with Aaron Banks, finger-flipping ex-minister Andrea Jenkyns... and who is that in the background? (Andrea Jenkyns/Twitter)

Speaking to The Independent in Clacton after his launch, Mr Farage, who has accused the Tories of “lying” over immigration and other policies, insisted that there was never a deal he would have accepted.

Instead, he has set his heart on the destruction and replacement of the Conservative Party, adding: “I am not interested in Tory MPs. I am interested in the British people.”

However, there is speculation that the meetings were too late and that the plan for an early election was already “unstoppable”.

MPs had been told to give their campaign rather than parliamentary emails for 10,000 leaflets being promised at the time of the meetings. They arrived the day after the election was called.

It had been hoped that by calling a snap election, it would be impossible for Mr Farage to stand. When he announced he would only campaign, the plan seemed to have worked.

That was until Monday this week when Mr Farage fully entered the fray with the polls already suggesting Labour is on course for a massive election victory.

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