Boris Johnson endured a difficult day on the campaign trail as the Tories came under fire over the NHS and allegations they tried to “buy off” Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.
Mr Farage said there had been “thousands of phone calls and emails” to prospective Brexit Party candidates telling them not to stand in the General Election in return for jobs and peerages.
It was not the first accusation faced by the Tories, as earlier Labour accused them of being “staggeringly out of touch” after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the NHS was in many ways performing better than ever.
New NHS figures show the health service is performing at its worst ever level against key targets on A&E, cancer care and the wait for operations.
Some 4.42 million patients – the highest ever number – are on the waiting list for treatment, while one in six patients waits too long in A&E and there are longer waits for cancer care and operations such as hip replacements.
Mr Hancock pointed to the rising number of patients requiring treatment and said the number of operations done had actually risen by 7% over the last 12 months.
“In many ways, the NHS is performing better than it ever has. The challenge is that demand is increasing as well,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme.
But shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “This is staggeringly out of touch.
“Matt Hancock is clueless about the levels of pain and misery he and his Tory cuts have caused patients.”
Then came Mr Farage’s claims after the General Election candidate nominations deadline of 4pm passed.
In a video posted on Twitter he said that he, along with eight “senior figures” in his party, were offered peerages.
He also tweeted: “Even Boris Johnson’s Chief Strategic Adviser Sir Edward Lister is calling our candidates and offering them jobs if they withdraw. The system is corrupt and broken.”
Mr Farage had confirmed earlier that he will not stand down any more candidates to help the Tories win a majority.
A Conservative spokesman said: “Neither the Conservative Party, nor its officials have offered Brexit Party candidates jobs or peerages.”
On Thursday night, Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice said: “Since our decision to stand down more than half our candidates for the good of this country, we have been dismayed by the behaviour of senior Conservative party figures.
“Our people have been offered jobs and titles to stand down as candidates on the last day of nominations, as part of a concerted campaign to undermine our party.
“We made a unilateral gesture which should prevent a second referendum and keep Boris Johnson in office.
“We are proud and grateful that our candidates have resisted these distasteful overtures and stood firm.”
A Tory source said: “Nigel can’t deliver Brexit, but he could end up blocking it. His outburst is a result of this fact dawning on him.”
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson appeared to row back from a promise to cut immigration if the Tories win the election.
He said the Conservatives’ promised points-based immigration system “may” mean the numbers come down “in some sectors”.
But earlier Home Secretary Priti Patel said a Tory government would “reduce immigration overall”.
Another development came in the form of the European Commission launching “infringement proceedings” against Britain after Mr Johnson refused to nominate a new British EU commissioner.
In a statement, the commission said that it considered that the UK was “in breach of its EU treaty obligations”.
It said that the Government had until November 22 to respond to the notice.
Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he would not appoint a new commissioner – even though all member states are legally obliged to do so.
Laura Pidcock, Labour’s shadow secretary for employment rights, said: “Boris Johnson’s dirty tricks and his alleged attempts to buy off Brexit Party candidates with jobs, shows his desperation in this General Election campaign.
“The Conservatives have nothing to offer our country.”