UKIP DEFECTOR Mark Reckless has revealed the behind the scenes moves leading up to his decision to ditch the Conservatives.
The Rochester and Strood MP is the second to switch to Ukip, following on from his friend of 20 years Douglas Carswell. Both will now fight by-elections against strong Conservative majorities.
Mr Reckless said he was sat next to Mr Carswell in a key meeting of the Tory MP group the 1922 committee early in the summer when, he says,David Cameron made it clear the PM wanted to stay in Europe.
And he reveals that despite Westminster being awash with rumours that he would be the next defection, the Tory whips never asked him directly if he would go, even though chief whip Michael Gove took him out for a meal after identifying him as a risk.
Mr Reckless said he had heard David Cameron speak at a key meeting discussing the EU.
He said: “We as a party had just printed tens of thousands of election posters saying we will bring back powers from Europe and here was the PM speaking passionately in favour of the European arrest warrant and making it clear he wants to remain in the EU, that leaving would mean would we only be an associate member like that was clearly a bad thing.”
Mr Reckless said the whips never directly tackled his potential to leave, although newspapers were full of speculation that the Tory rebel would be next.
He said: “I had a lunch with Michael Gove that was widely reported, but have not had wider discussions. I did not lie to Mr Gove, he did not ask me a direct question, we were mainly talking about my proposal to clean up the whips office. I had asked the PM about blackmail in the whips office, why it was not registered as a data controller.
“I’m not sure a whip has ever asked me point blank that would require me to say something that was untrue.”
Mr Reckless said there was no deal offered at the dinner meeting. “I think Michael was entirely sincere in his dealings with me, he is a very honourable man, and I think he wants to make sure the whips office is above board.”
Asked if he thought the whips had not done a good enough job, Mr Reckless said: “I did not get directly asked, but you can’t really discuss these things in advance, it has not been an easy few weeks, Douglas made a brave decision but it has taken me longer to be sure myself, but I believe it is the right thing to do.”
Since that 19922 meeting in June Mr Reckless had been considering leaving a party he said would not keep a promise of the referendum. After making up his mind he eventually got in touch with Mr Carswell.
“I had a number of conversations with Nigel Farage,”adding that these phone calls were arranged by Mr Carswell.
“But I only agreed with Nigel that in principle this was something I wanted to do two weeks ago.”
Asked if he had discussed the issue with Mr Carswell before the Clacton MP’s defection he said, “It’s very difficult for MPs to discuss this (with each other), I have known Douglas for 20 years but you just can’t be sure it is not going to get back to others, they are very difficult conversations to have.
“I would say now to any MP of any party come over to UKIP.”
Asked how he feels about old colleagues in the constituency, he said: “I hope many of them will join.”
He said he had not thought what to do if he did not win the by-election.