A tory grandee's patch-and-mend plan to strike a pact with the UK Independence Party to cobble together more seats unravelled today after Ukip refused to be wooed.
Party vice-chairman for parliamentary campaigning Michael Fabricant said an electoral pact with Ukip would deliver 40 marginal seats to the Tories.
But Ukip leader Nigel Farage swiftly retorted there could be "no deals with the Tories: it's war." He cited David Cameron's previous claims that the party was one of "closet racists."
Mr Fabricant told Mr Cameron that the Tories could lose out in many close seats at the next general election without the promise of an in-out referendum on the EU.
He said it was "time to actively consider whether a rapprochement might be possible" to counter a rising tide of Eurosceptic public opinion.
"These steps have to be taken to stop the continued haemorrhage of Conservative votes," he said.
The issue surfaced amid the controversy over children being removed from foster parents in Rotherham because of their Ukip membership - and the Rotherham by-election on Thursday.
Ukip crowed on its website that the Labour-controlled council's decision had handed it a boost in the election.
Mr Cameron is resisting growing back-bench demands for a straightforward referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the EU.
Mr Fabricant said the eurozone crisis and the attention on the future of the EU meant Ukip's message was "gaining traction with many, and fast."
Ukip was not likely to win seats but could cost the Tories victory in key contests, he said.
"At present, Ukip does not pose a threat in any single Westminster parliamentary seat - however, it presents a far more troubling threat to the Conservative Party."
Ukip's deputy leader Paul Nuttall said on BBC television that any talks with the Tories would be difficult at the moment because of Mr Cameron's recent comments.
"David Cameron had retracted his comments on Saturday night, and then he retracted his retraction."
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