Farage senses opportunity for Tory defections

By politics.co.uk staff

"Discussions" with Conservative party MPs, MEPs and peers about potential defections to Ukip are underway, Nigel Farage has claimed.

The eurosceptic party, which has 11 MEPs but no MPs in the Commons, is looking to capitalise after nearly half of David Cameron's backbenchers rebelled against his party on Europe.

"I'm not going to tell you they are on the verge of coming across," he told the Evening Standard newspaper.

"All I can tell you is that it's being discussed. I do know people in the Conservative party – and I've spoken to some this morning – who are deeply depressed at the moment.

"Some of them have got to be asking themselves, 'What if a whole group of us went to Ukip?'"

Mr Farage said Ukip offered a "real alternative" for disillusioned Tories which was not available when the Maastricht treaty was pushed through in 1992.

Many Conservative backbenchers feel emboldened by their mass defiance against the prime minister, whose authority is thought to have been significantly weakened as a result of the rebellion. Eighty-one Tories voted against the government on Monday night, in the largest ever revolt over Europe in parliament's history.

"I think Monday will come to be seen as a historic step towards our leaving the EU," Tory rebel Philip Davies told the Express newspaper, which is campaigning for Britain to get out of the EU altogether.

"I'm afraid that whatever the PM might hope, this is absolutely not going to go away."

David Nuttall, who tabled the motion, said: "The clamour for a referendum on our membership will, I believe, only continue to grow as the EU continues to expand its interference into ever more areas of our national daily life."

One report even suggested that work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith threatened to resign over the vote.

An MP who was present at a confrontation between the former Tory leader and chief whip Patrick McLoughlin told the Mail: "Iain said, 'if you ever put me in this position again, that's it'. He was extremely unimpressed with how the whole thing had been handled, and made clear what he would do if there's any repeat."