Tory MP Mark Reckless defects to Ukip
MP for Rochester and Strood makes announcement on stage at Ukip conference in Doncaster.
Mark Reckless, the Tory MP for Rochester and Strood, has become the second Conservative member to defect to Ukip in the space of two months.
The eurosceptic politician said he had not taken the decision lightly but claimed the Conservative leadership was part of the problem that is holding our country back.
The surprise announcement, which comes on the eve of the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, is a further blow to David Cameron eight months before the general election.Appearing on stage to a rapturous reception at the Ukip conference in Doncaster, he said voters felt “ripped off and lied to”, adding: “Today I am leaving the Conservative party and joining Ukip.”
Reckless said he had endured a number of sleepless nights over the decision, telling the conference he had been a Conservative “as long as I can remember”.
He added: “I do feel that the leadership of the Conservative party is part of the problem that is holding our country back.”
A Conservative spokesman said the decision by Reckless was “completely illogical”, adding: “He says he wants action on a European referendum, tax and immigration. The only party capable of delivering on these issues is the Conservative party – and a vote for Ukip is a vote for Ed Miliband.”??
Andrew Mackness, chairman of Rochester and Strood Conservatives, told Sky News he was “astonished and disgusted” by Reckless’s action and that he had given reassurances just 48 hours ago that he would not defect.
Reckless told the Guardian late last month that he would be staying with the Tories to help David Cameron ensure he could deliver his promise of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union in 2017.
He dismissed the prime minister’s promise of an in-out referendum: “I’m afraid I have reluctantly reached the view that he is doing so purely as a device. He has already pre-ordained his intended outcome, namely continued membership of the EU on something very close to the present terms. Everything else is for show. In this hall we want a straight referendum, an honest referendum. In or out, no fudge, no conjuring trick.”
Reckless will follow the example set by Douglas Carswell, who said last month he would stand down as Tory MP for Clacton, to trigger a byelection and stand as a Ukip candidate.
Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, told the party conference that polling showed Carswell was on course to win the 9 October byelection with 56% of the vote, pushing the Conservatives into second on 24%.
However, Reckless faces a more difficult battle in his constituency than Carswell. He won the Kent seat for the Tories in 2010 with a majority of about 10,000 – almost 50% of the vote.
Farage said: “I am going to do everything I can to support Mark Reckless in that byelection. I shall be down there, I shall knock on doors, I shall do whatever it takes. This man has shown huge courage. He has thrown his lot in with us and we will do everything we can to get him elected.”
Asked about other possible defections, Farage replied: “We have these conversations. Of course there are Conservatives I am talking to but there are Labour people too. There are Labour people who are deeply frustrated with Ed Miliband’s leadership.”
Ukip’s prospective parliamentary candidate in Rochester and Strood, Mark Hanson, had been unaware of the plans to install Reckless in the seat but told conference that he was happy to stand aside.
Reckless’s website mentions his drive to reduce immigration to the UK – “particularly trying to stop a large inflow of migrants from Romania and Bulgaria”.
His constituents did not believe that Britain had control over who entered the country, the MP said: “The insanity of our immigration rules means that a second-generation Briton wanting to bring granny over for a wedding – still less if they want to get married to someone from abroad themselves – will face huge difficulties, yet they will see an open door to immigration to anyone from the European Union.
“I promise to cut immigration while treating people fairly and humanely. I cannot keep that promise as a Conservative; I can keep it as Ukip.”
Reckless was one of the 43 MPs who voted against approving British air strikes in Iraq on Friday and has campaigned against funding cuts to the armed forces.
Just two months after being elected in May 2010, he apologised for being drunk in the Commons and missing a vote on the budget.
“Given this very embarrassing experience I don’t intend to drink at Westminster again,” he told BBC Radio Kent at the time. “I made a mistake. I’m really sorry about it.”Reckless, who graduated from Oxford University in PPE and has an MBA from Columbia Business School, was called to the bar in 2007 after working as an economist for investment banks. He had also worked for the Conservatives’ policy unit and was elected in 2010, becoming a member of the House of Commons home affairs select committee. He is married with two children.
Meanwhile, the former Castle Point MP Bob Spink, who defected from the Conservatives to Ukip in 2008, told the conference that he wished he had taken the same decision to spark a byelection as Carswell and now Reckless.
“I entered parliament in 1992 and I defected to Ukip in 2008. I deeply regret not having Douglas’s courage to call a byelection. I was wrong. That was a mistake,” he told delegates.
Spink predicted the party would secure more than five MPs at next year’s election: “The number of Ukip MPs will be the headline next year, but our share of the national vote is also important. It gives us influence.”