Tory minister says there should be ‘no space’ for Nigel Farage in his party – and hints at leadership bid

Politics

A government minister has said there should be “no space” for Nigel Farage in the Conservative Party – as he hinted he may run for Rishi Sunak’s position after the election.

Steve Baker, the minister for Northern Ireland, acknowledged the troubles currently facing the Conservative campaign and that he did not want to pre-empt Rishi Sunak standing down after the election.

But speaking to the Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge, Mr Baker said that while his party would “love to win”, people would “guffaw if they looked at the polls and then saw me come on here and say that I thought we were going to win”.

Asked if he harboured his own leadership ambitions, Mr Baker said he would “like to be on the government benches with Rishi as prime minister.”

‘I wouldn’t rule it out’

But pressed on whether he would rule out a leadership bid, he added: “I wouldn’t rule it out.

“The reality is that my colleagues have sent for me before the referendum, after the referendum, during COVID and over net zero.

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“And on all four occasions, I’ve led actual MPs to a great degree of success – and I wouldn’t mind the chance to do it again”.

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Mr Baker is one of a number of Tories who are likely to run to replace Mr Sunak in the event the polls are proved correct and he loses the keys to Downing Street.

A fresh debate raging in the Conservative Party is whether it should embrace Reform leader Nigel Farage into the Tory fold – an idea Mr Baker rejected but that other leadership hopefuls, including former home secretary Suella Braverman, have welcomed.

Reform setbacks

Some recent polls have put Reform ahead of the Tories – but over the last week Mr Farage’s party has become embroiled in its own scandals – with two of its candidates accused of antisemitic social media posts and another caught making racist comments about Mr Sunak.

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Mr Baker said the Conservative Party must always be “moderate and temperate”.

He said there should be “no space for Nigel Farage in the Conservative Party”, arguing: “A person who has deliberately set out to destroy the Conservative Party cannot subsequently be welcomed into it.”

“Unfortunately, his parties attract a number of people who I would absolutely not allow in the Conservative Party. I’m afraid, you know, Nigel can’t have it both ways. If he wants to be a Conservative, he should shut down his party and join us.”

Earlier today the prime minister insisted he had “absolutely not” given up on winning the election despite repeated repeatedly warning about a Labour “supermajority”.

Speaking while on a visit to the safe Tory seat of Staffordshire, Mr Sunak said: I’m fighting hard for every vote. I don’t take a single place or person for granted.”

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Mr Baker, who is standing as the Conservative candidate in Wycombe, told the Politics Hub that parts of the Tory campaign had been “embarrassing”.

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He cited the scandal that has unfolded over bets placed by Conservatives on the date of the election – something that has resulted in an investigation by the Gambling Commission – as well as Mr Sunak’s much-criticised decision to leave D-Day commemorations early.

‘Embarassing campaign’

The Conservatives subsequently dropped support for the candidates caught up in the scandal.

“Elements of the campaign have been embarrassing,” Mr Baker said.

“There’s no point denying that. Yes. Certainly nobody with inside knowledge should be placing a bet. I mean, they bring shame on themselves by doing it.

“He added: “D-Day – I think it was very unfortunate.”

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Paymaster General, said it was “incredible that less than 60 hours until polling booths open, Tory Ministers are undermining the Prime Minister by boldly flaunting their leadership ambitions on national television”.

“From COVID cronyism to trips to the bookies, these Tories always put self-interest and their own ambition ahead of serving their country. What this shows is that if the Conservatives are given another five years, the chaos will just continue.”

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