UKIP LEADER Nigel Farage has predicted further defections should Tory deserter Douglas Carswell win a by-election and become the Eurosceptic party’s first MP.
Mr Carswell will return to his Clacton constituency today flanked by Mr Farage as the pair plan a completely unexpected by-election campaign following the shock announcement yesterday.
Mr Carswell quit the Commons to re-stand under the Ukip banner and writing in the Independent, Mr Farage claimed there were other MPs among both Labour and Conservative rank-and-file who could follow suit.
He said: “There are an increasing number of Conservative and Labour backbenchers who not only support Ukip fully in what it is trying to achieve but view the impact of open-door immigration and its effects on the lives of ordinary people with increasing urgency.
“So if Douglas Carswell wins this by-election and those backbench MPs with a favourable view of Ukip believe they are more likely to win their seats as Ukip than as Tory or Labour, then more will follow.
“The Clacton by-election is of huge significance not just to the future of Ukip but to the whole of British politics. It will indeed be our high noon.”
Announcing his defection from the Tories, Mr Carswell said he did not believe David Cameron’s EU referendum policy was “sincere”, saying the leadership wanted to secure “just enough” to pretend change was happening.
Mr Cameron condemned the move as “deeply regrettable” and now faces a tricky party conference season overshadowed by the campaign.
Mr Farage has sparked intense speculation about further defections from the Conservative ranks. Estimates have ranged from one and up to eight MPs who have held talks with the Eurosceptics.
In his announcement, Mr Carswell said: “No one cheered David Cameron’s Bloomberg speech more loudly than me ... but there’s been nothing since. They haven’t thought it through.
“There is a world of change and opportunity out there ... ministers are simply not up to giving us the kind of realignment we need.”
Mr Carswell said it would have been easier for him to “muddle along” as a Tory backbencher until next May, but he wanted to do the “honourable” thing.
The Prime Minister led dismay at the announcement, which caught all sides by surprise at a press conference called by Mr Farage.
Mr Cameron said: “It is obviously deeply regrettable when these things happen and people behave in this way. But it is also, in my view, counter-productive.
“If you want a referendum on Britain’s future in the EU, whether we should stay or go, the only way to to get that is to have a Conservative government after the next election.
“That is what until very recently Douglas Carswell himself was saying.”
Speaking to the BBC Newsnight programme Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who lead Tory revolts over Europe and the Maastricht Treaty in the 1990s, said: “I know Douglas quite well really and he is that classic kind of figure who has never really sought or wanted front bench appointment, but really agitates from the backbenches. It’s an historic position to be in.
“I regret he’s gone, I think he has made a big mistake.
“This is very much a Douglas Carswell moment - in other words he is very much an individual who would make this kind of decision ... we were all surprised but at the same time not that surprised in a funny sort of way.”
Mr Duncan Smith said he felt strongly Mr Carswell had made an error because the Conservative Party under Mr Cameron now backed an in-out referendum.
“In the course of the next few weeks and months we will have to step up the gas and make sure the public understands this,” Mr Duncan Smith added.
“The reality is there is only one party promising that referendum.”
The date for the by-election is yet to be set but is likely to be held within weeks. Parliamentary rules require an election between 21 and 27 days after a writ is moved to fill the vacancy.
Reports have suggested a mid-October date for the poll - with October 9 the last available Thursday if the writ is moved on September 12, the final day of the two week September sitting.
The Conservative Party Conference runs from September 28 to October 1 - with September 25 and October 2 both possible dates for the by-election.
Before the writ can be moved, Mr Carswell must be appointed to a nominal office of the Crown by Chancellor George Osborne, disqualifying him as the current MP.
Simon Martin-Redman, the Conservative association chairman in Clacton, pledged a strong fight against its former MP.
Speaking to Newsnight, he said: “A lot of people will be very disappointed in him.
“I won’t criticise Douglas - I’m only disappointed he has done this.”