Nigel Farage’s hand could be significantly strengthened in any coalition negotiation by a deal with both main Unionist parties in Parliament. Earlier this week the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) announced an electoral pact, which was closely followed by an offer to work together in Parliament from UKIP Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall.
The DUP has a total of eight seats in the House of Commons but having rival UUP candidates have caused both party’s to lose predominantly Unionist seats in the past. In 2010 a Unionists lost Fermanagh and South Tyrone by just 4 votes. The DUP has agreed not to stand there or in Newry and South Tyrone, were their combined votes could put the UUP within 4,500 of beating Sinn Fein/IRA.
In exchange the UUP has offered the DUP a free run in the seats of East Belfast and North Belfast. If all the UUP voters backed the DUP candidates they would easily take East and give their leader Nigel Dodds a significantly increased majority in North.
If all of these seats came in for the two Unionist Parties they would have a total of 11 seats, which combined with estimates of UKIP getting as many as 15 could potentially make the group the third largest in the House of Commons. This would put them in a prime position to be the deal makers in any coalition negotiations.
The polls vary widely on how many seats UKIP will get but even with a small team they would have significant traction once they combined with the Unionists. Also, even the most pessimistic pollsters conceed UKIP will get Douglas Carswell re-elected in Clacton and Nigel Farage elected in South Thanet.
Whilst the two are widely rumoured to have clashed in the past, they both have a track record of being effective parliamentarians. If they were able to work with the Unionists that would also give them access to experienced Commons staffers in the DUP whips office and amongst the MPs researchers.
UKIP Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall told the BBC: “We’ll work with the DUP in Westminster towards securing that referendum if we can get it this year… I’ve had conversations with Peter (Robinson) about working together once we’re over there, and we would be a pretty substantial bloc.
“Let’s not forget, ourselves and the DUP combined may well have more seats than the Liberal Democrats which then could change the dynamic in Westminster altogether.”
Nigel Farage has already publicly stated he would work with the Conservatives under certain circumstances. The DUP have admitted privately their pledge do work with “whoever will give the best deal to Northern Ireland” is code from wanting to work with the Tories.
The UUP not only effectively merged with the Northern Irish Conservatives before the last election, they have always sat as Conservatives in the House of Lords.
If the three parties do a coalition deal it is likely to be on a confidence and supply basis, with an early European referendum being the ‘red line’ issue.