Pressure on Cameron as MP defects to Ukip
Carswell resigns Tory seat over EU membership and prompts byelection
Former Tory MP Douglas Carswell (right) with Ukip leader Nigel Farage, after he announced his defection to Ukip yesterday. Photograph: EPA
British prime minister David Cameron has come under pressure to toughen his EU reform demands, following yesterday’s shock defection by a Conservative MP to the UK Independence Party.
Essex MP, Douglas Carswell, a long-term Eurosceptic, stunned Westminster by announcing his defection; but, most importantly, by resigning his seat and prompting a byelection.
He was quitting, he said, because Mr Cameron was “not serious” about forcing major reforms, saying that the prime minister had already “made up his mind” that the UK should stay in the EU.
The Conservatives fear other defections could follow, but Mr Cameron’s immediate challenge is to toughen up language about Brussels in a speech he is due to give within days.
ByelectionThe date for the byelection is for the Conservatives to decide, but bookmakers last night made Mr Carswell an odds-on favourite to retain his seat in Clacton – a deprived seaside town.
Mr Carswell, who has been 10 years in the Commons, has a strong personal following in the constituency – the most Ukip-friendly one in England, according to academics.
In 2010, he took 53 per cent of the vote in the election, partly because of his popularity locally but also because Ukip did not put up a challenger against him, though it took just 3 per cent nationally in that election.
If he wins, Ukip will then have its first House of Commons seat – a significant breach in the political wall for a party bidding to win dozens of seats in next year’s general election.Mr Cameron was left in the dark about Mr Carswell’s decision; but, so, too was the local Conservative Association, though some of its members will join him.
Mr Carswell will be reminded in the coming byelection campaign of his past declarations, notably one in April when he said: “In order to exit the EU, we need David Cameron to be prime minister in 2017 – the year when we will get the In/Out referendum, our chance to vote to leave the EU.”
Immigration figuresYesterday’s news came as the latest immigration figures reported that 243,000 people – most of them from EU countries – have moved to the UK in the last year.
Mr Carswell said he had decided to quit because Downing Street is preparing to offer voters “just enough to persuade enough of them to stay” in a 2017 EU referendum.
“That is the game plan. It is about not leaving the European Union. David Cameron has made up his mind – he wants to stay in. It’s all about positioning for the election,” he said.
Clearly delighted by Ukip’s new catch, party leader, Nigel Farage said: “There are others in Westminster having similar thoughts.
“I don’t think it is any great secret that there are members of parliament on the Conservative benches, and indeed on the Labour benches, who hold Ukip’s views very strongly.
“It was only a matter of time before one of them had the courage to come across. I’d begun to wonder whether it would happen, but it has happened,” he went on.
However, there is clear anger among some long-standing Eurosceptic MPs, such as Bill Cash, who believe Mr Carswell has increased the chances of Labour winning next year’s election. “This is a self-defeating exercise in political vanity. They will help Ed Miliband get into power and they will destroy the Eurosceptic cause,” said Mr Cash.