David Cameron accuses Douglas Carswell of helping Labour campaign
PM said former Tory MP’s defection to Ukip was ‘odd’ as he has left only party guaranteeing referendum on Europe after 2015.
David Cameron has accused Douglas Carswell of making a “quite bizarre” decision to defect from the Tories to Ukip, saying the move would help Labour win the next general election.
The prime minister said it was “odd” and self-defeating for a staunch Eurosceptic like Carswell to stand down as MP for Clacton and reject the only party that had a realistic chance of staging the in/out vote on EU membership he craved.
Asked by the Guardian during a visit to Scotland whether the Ukip crisis would bolster a yes vote for independence, Cameron took his most critical stance yet on Carswell’s decision. That suggests party chiefs are confident there will be no further immediate backbench defections.
Cameron implied that only Labour could benefit from Carswells’ defection, since backing Ukip would cut into the Tory vote for the 2015 general election – an implicit warning to other Eurosceptic Tory MPs about the risks of jumping ship.
“I think Douglas Carswell’s decision is regrettable. I also think it’s quite bizarre,” the prime minister said at a briefing outside Edinburgh. “He stood as a Conservative in 2010 when we weren’t promising a referendum and he’s left the Conservative party when we are promising a referendum. For someone who wants a referendum, it’s a rather strange way to behave.”
Cameron insisted he respected all the “good arguments” that critics of his policies on the EU might have: “Some people might say they go too far, some people say they don’t go far enough, some people say they would like to hear more about them.”
“But Douglas Carswell’s view of course was that there was no reform programme in Europe that he wanted. He simply wanted a referendum so that he could vote to leave. He was very clear about wanting to leave theEuropean Union.
“Now if that is your view it does seem to very strange to leave the party that is guaranteeing an in/out referendum and joining the party that can’t guarantee anything apart from the danger of a Labour government in Westminster.”
Meanwhile, Ukip’s existing general election candidate in Clacton, Roger Lord, told Sky News that Carswell should “join the queue” and accused the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, of making a mistake in allowing him to stand in the seat.
He said: “If they think I’m going to roll over like a puppy, they’ve got the wrong guy. For somebody to come along, just as we’re on the cusp of winning, knowing they might well lose their seat and join the unemployment line in May, to take all our hard work… and take all our glory.
“Come on, join the queue Douglas, get back there and put some effort in!
“He knew he was going to lose come next May if I stood against him. I can debate him in public and beat him down. Simple as that.
“He knew his boat was sinking. The water’s up to his knees, he’s jumped ship and he’s looking after himself.”
Earlier, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, John Redwood, the former cabinet minister, described claims by Ukip donor Stuart Wheeler that up to eight Tories were about to defect as “a figment of Ukip’s imagination”, as party chiefs sought to calm the party’s nerves.
Cameron continued: “I completely understand why people get frustrated with the way things work but the answer is not to throw your hands up and give up, it’s actually to get stuck in and recognise you can change things.
“People said to me: ‘You’ll never cut the European budget.” I cut it. People said to me: ‘You’ll never veto a treaty in Europe.” I vetoed one. People said: ‘You’ll never get your way on single market reform protecting our key industries.’ We’ve repeatedly got our way so if we fight we can win. That’s an argument I’ve obviously got to have in Scotland and right across the UK.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Alex Salmond said Carswell’s defection was greater evidence of the political divide between England and Scotland: “The politics of Euroscepticism that we see in Westminster are deeply damaging for Scotland, and could be even more damaging if we are dragged out of Europe.
“I think we should get on with building a constructive relationship with the rest of our partners across the European continent. I think that is very much the trend of the outward-looking, internationalist approach of the people who believe in an independent Scotland.”