UKIP leader Paul Nuttall is set to pull out of the Andrew Marr Show this Sunday if he loses the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election, HuffPost UK has learned.
Nuttall was booked weeks ago to appear on the flagship BBC political programme as part of its New Year interviews with all the main party leaders.
But he has made clear to colleagues and the BBC that he is unlikely to subject himself to a grilling on the Marr sofa if he fails to take the Stoke seat from Labour.
The anti-EU party came second in the constituency in the 2015 general election and Nuttall gambled on fighting it in a bid to prove that UKIP was the real alternative to Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s traditional heartlands.
Stoke was dubbed ‘the Brexit capital’ of England in the 2016 EU referendum after an overwhelming majority of its residents voted to leave the European Union.
The by-election, which was prompted by the resignation of Labour MP Tristram Hunt to take up a new job as director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, offers UKIP its best chance to get its leader elected to Westminster.
Labour held the seat with a 5,000 majority two years ago and has suffered from rows about its candidate Gareth Snell, who once tweeted disparaging remarks about women and about Brexit itself.
Nuttall was forced to withdraw from a planned appearance on the Marr Show on February 5 after he declared his candidacy for the Stoke seat. Strict rules for broadcasters prevent disproportionate airtime for individual by-election candidates.
He is understood to have committed to coming on the show the weekend after the contest was over, win or lose.
But in recent days, Nuttall has signalled that he won’t go on the programme if he is defeated in Stoke.
One source said the UKIP leader was very reluctant to agree to an in-depth interview so soon after a defeat. “Rather depends on tonight,” a party source added.
A Labour source said that Nuttall was again “running scared”, days after he faced controversy over false claims on his website that he had lost a ‘close personal friend’ in the Hillsborough football tragedy.
Nuttall has hit out at “smears” suggesting he had not even been present at the match, when 96 Liverpool fans died in an horrific crush.
Jack Dromey, Labour’s campaign chief in Stoke, told HuffPost UK: “While Labour is fighting for every vote in the Stoke-on-Trent by-election, Paul Nuttall is busy fretting over his TV appearances.
“We have said all along that Nuttall is unfit to be an MP and his cowardly campaign – in which he has hidden from debates and the people of Stoke – has proved it.”
The Tories, who came narrowly third in 2015, are hopeful that they can sneak into second place and Theresa May paid a surprise visit to the seat on Monday.