Senior figures in the Brexit party are divided over whether they should contest every seat in the general election – or give committed Tory Brexit supporters a clear run.
The party, led by the former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, is hoping to secure its first MPs this December when it stands in a general election for the first time. But splits are emerging between those who want to run in all 650 seats and others who would prefer to focus on a smaller, targeted list.
The Brexit party chairman, Richard Tice, has said the party has vetted 600 candidates so far and hopes to run in up to 650 seats.
Farage is said to be in the middle on the strategy in terms of numbers. Others are urging for caution and suggest working on a much-reduced list of target seats in case they split the Brexit vote and threaten the chance of Britain leaving the EU.
Arron Banks, who co-founded the Leave.Eu campaign group with Tice, said that there is a “split view on what to do” within the party, which will go to the electorate with a promise to deliver a “clean Brexit” – a form of no-deal.
He said: “What I was saying was, be strategic. Where it makes sense to stand, stand. Where it doesn’t, don’t.”
Farage is currently away in Washington but decisions on where the party is going to stand will take place over the weekend, it is understood, after their election launch due to take place later this week.
Banks added: “He’s got a big decision to take, whether to be strategic about it.”
In dozens of marginals it could be possible that the Brexit party hands victory to pro-Remain candidates from Labour or the Liberal Democrats by splitting the vote withthe Tory party candidate who may be an enthusiastic advocate of Johnson’s deal.
He said that some candidates might decide it is not worth running against committed Brexiters and “take matters into their own hands” by standing down.
Among the candidates apparently already withdrawing from the race, according to Banks, is their representative in Stone, the seat of the long-standing Eurosceptic Bill Cash.
A spokesperson for the Brexit party said the idea that they were due to pull out of hundreds of seats so as not to risk scuppering Brexit was “rubbish” and “speculation”, but acknowledged that the party wants to focus on Labour heartlands with a significant leave vote.
He said: “It is complete speculation. We are talking about things but we have got candidates and we are just working out where to place people.”
John Longworth, the Brexit party MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, has suggested the party be “sensible” for its first Westminster election and focus on parts of the country where they have a genuine chance. “I think we ought to be targeted in terms of the number of seats that we decide to address,” he told the Times.
“I can imagine that might be 20 or 30. They would be entirely winnable then if you poured all your resources into them. You probably would not get any more if you concentrated on the 600. But you would also get a better result for Brexit too.”