02/06/2015 12:04 BST | Updated 02/06/2016 06:59 BST

Loyalty to Nigel Farage Could Cost the 'Out' Campaign Victory in the EU Referendum

The 'out' campaign needs to appear positive, confident and forward-thinking if it is going to be victorious in the referendum. Unfortunately for Nigel Farage, those are no longer words with which he is associated.

Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

The date of the in/out European Union referendum hasn't even been set but the fault lines in the 'Out' campaign are already on show.

At Monday's Bruges Group meeting - an organisation formed in 1989 in honour of Margaret Thatcher's eurosceptic speech in the Belgian town a year earlier - the splits were visible and vocal.

On one side are the pro-Farage, pro-Ukip supporters, last night represented by Tim Aker MEP. This group believes Nigel Farage should be the frontman of the 'Out' campaign, pointing to the four million votes won by Ukip in the General Election. As Mr Aker said last night, without Mr Farage and Ukip, there would not even be an in/out EU Referendum on which to campaign.

'Why would you cut out the man who has led the Eurosceptic cause to the brink of its greatest victory?' the Farageites argue.

Those on the other side of the argument, last night embodied by veteran Tory Eurosceptic John Redwood, are wary of Mr Farage and his passionate supporters. Yes, he and Ukip won four million votes on 7 May, but that was only a vote share of 13%. To win the referendum, the out campaign needs to attract 51%. If it wants to well and truly win the argument, it needs the support of at least 60% of the electorate.

There is a concern Mr Farage alienates more people than he attracts. Those who love him really are true believers, but he is too divisive to win over floating voters, goes their argument.

Which side is right? They both are, but one with regards to the past, and one with regards to the future.

No matter how much Mr Redwood and other Eurosceptic Tories like to believe it was they who forced David Cameron to agree to an in/out referendum, they are wrong. These Eurosceptics have been banging on about Europe for decades, and never got anywhere near to such a vote.

Even when 81 Tory MPs rebelled against Mr Cameron and voted in favour of a referendum in the Commons in 2011, it alone was not enough to convince the Prime Minister of the need to change policy.

Mr Cameron, who is not a natural Eurosceptic, agreed to a referendum because of the rise of Mr Farage and Ukip, as well as the disquiet on his backbenches. As well buying some loyalty from Eurosceptic Tories, he knew that by promising the referendum it would take away one of the unique selling points of Mr Farage's 'People's Army'. It was a combination of these pressures, not just that from the Tory backbenchers, which changed Mr Cameron's mind.

But that is the past. What of the future?

As popular as Mr Farage is, he could not even convince enough people in South Thanet to vote for him in the General Election. How does this bode for the 'Out' campaign in the EU Referendum? Yes, Mr Farage can bring with him 13% of the electorate, but what about the other 40-50% needed to win?

The 'out' campaign needs to appear positive, confident and forward-thinking if it is going to be victorious. Unfortunately for Mr Farage, those are no longer words with which he is associated.

His attacks on migrants with HIV, the complaint to the police about a joke on Have I Got News For You and his 'unresignation' have severely, perhaps fatally, wounded Mr Farage's 'jokey man in the pub' brand.

priti patel

Could Priti Patel win over floating voters to the 'Out' campaign?

The 'Out' campaign will not win over floating voters with him at the helm. A more moderate figure, such as Tory Treasury minister Priti Patel, or Labour's Kate Hoey, with wider appeal and less baggage, than Mr Farage would be a much better figurehead.

The other area which Mr Redwood was spot on last night was the need to support Mr Cameron in his renegotiation. Us Brits believe in fair play, as Mr Farage so often said when hitting back at negative attacks on Ukip during the General Election campaign. Therefore, it is only fair to support Mr Cameron in his attempts at getting a better deal.

That way, even the most ardent Brussels-haters can look floating voters in the eye and say 'Yes, we tried to get a better deal but it didn't work' during the referendum campaign - a far more palatable argument for people to swallow than 'No matter what Mr Cameron got we wouldn't have been happy because we just don't like the EU'.

The irony is, if the pro-Farage side accepted both of these arguments, they would still win their true aim of getting Britain out of the EU.

If Mr Farage is not the frontman for the 'Out' group, are all his supporters really not going to vote to leave the EU just to spite the John Redwoods of this world?


If the Cameron-haters really think the Prime Minister will get nothing from the renegotiation, then what is the harm in supporting him on his fool's errand? They will get to say 'well, we tried but it as we feared so we must leave.'

Nigel Farage and Ukip should be congratulated by eurosceptics for winning the battle to get the referendum, but he should now realise he cannot lead the troops in the war to get Britain out of the European Union.