MP’s defection to Ukip forces Cameron on offensive

Tory defector Douglas Carswell with Ukip leader Nigel Farage. Picture: Reuters
Tory defector Douglas Carswell with Ukip leader Nigel Farage. Picture: Reuters
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DAVID Cameron has promised an all-out fight with Ukip, after one of his MPs defected to the Eurosceptic party and triggered a by-election.

The Prime Minister said Douglas Carswell’s decision was “deeply regrettable and counterproductive”, arguing that only a Tory government could deliver an in-out referendum on membership of the European Union.

Mr Carswell delivered his bombshell at a hastily arranged press conference, accusing Mr Cameron of being “insincere” and not “serious about real change”. He said he was resigning immediately to trigger a by-election in his Clacton constituency – where only his personal following is thought to have been holding back the Ukip vote. A host of Eurosceptic MPs loyal to Mr Cameron were quickly deployed to pour cold water on the possibility of other prominent defections to Nigel Farage’s party.

But the jubilant Ukip leader hailed Mr Carswell’s decision as the “bravest, most honourable and noblest” he had witnessed in British politics, describing him as a “perfect fit”.

The Prime Minister 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 get that is to have a Conservative government after the next election. That is what until very recently Douglas Carswell himself was saying.”

Mr Carswell beat the Labour incumbent by just 920 votes to become MP for Harwich in 2005, but won the seat with a 12,000 majority in 2010 – although boundary changes had seen the constituency renamed Clacton.

Setting out a litany of criticism of Mr Cameron yesterday, Mr Carswell said he did not believe the Conservative Party’s policy on EU membership was “sincere”, saying the leadership wanted to secure “just enough” to pretend change was happening.

He said it would have been easier for him to “muddle along” as a Tory back-bencher until next May, but he wanted to do the “honourable” thing.