War of words as ‘fit and proper’ Euro MP leaves UKIP for Tories

THE UK Independence Party’s remaining Yorkshire Euro MPs say they will “pick ourselves up and carry on” after their colleague Amjad Bashir defected to the Conservatives.

Amjad Bashir MEP

The decision by Mr Bashir, who owns restaurants in Bradford, prompted a war of words today between the two parties over his previous conduct.

Ukip said it had suspended Mr Bashir shortly before news of his decision to join the Tories emerged, and Mr Farage said the party had become “increasingly alarmed” about allegations of impropriety including “unanswered financial and employment questions”.

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Mr Bashir dismissed his former party’s move as a “desperate attempt” to smear him to distract from the news of his decision to join the Conservatives and insisted there was “not a shred of truth” to the claims.

He was one of three Ukip candidates elected to represent Yorkshire in Brussels last May when the party emerged as the clear winners in the region’s European elections.

Respect MP George Galloway said his party de-selected Mr Bashir as a council candidate ahead of the 2012 local elections.

The Bradford West MP refused to say what the issues were that led to Mr Bashir’s sacking “but they were sufficiently grave to make us realise that he was not a fit and proper person to represent Respect”.

Chancellor George Osborne insisted this morning he was “not aware” of any reason why the Tories should have turned away Mr Bashir.

Mr Osborne was repeatedly asked on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme whether he was satisfied that Mr Bashir was a fit person to be in the Conservative Party.

“I’m satisfied that Amjad Bashir has this crucial insight, which is, if you want a referendum on British membership of the EU, you’re going to need to have a Conservative government, you are going to need to have David Cameron in Downing Street, because the alternatives are not promising,” he said.

“I was listening to him on the television yesterday, and I thought he was very compelling about the reasons why he wanted a Conservative government ... I’m certainly not aware of something that that I should be worried about.”

He added: “We are absolutely comfortable that he will be a Conservative MEP who will speak powerfully on the reasons, based on his own personal experience, on why voting for some of these minority parties leads to the exact opposite outcome that you want.”

Jane Collins and Mike Hookem were elected alongside Mr Bashir as Ukip took half of Yorkshire’s six seats in Brussels and Strasbourg at the last EU election.

Ms Collins told The Yorkshire Post: “Since Mr Bashir became an MEP we have not had a lot to do with him or seen him very much. I am not sure what has happened.

“Regarding myself and Mike Hookem, they have have got two solid people. We will not be defecting, we will not let them down and we will continue to work hard for them.”

Mr Hookem added: “It has come as quite a surprise. It’s a shock. The reports I’ve been getting from branches and the membership is that he’s not been seen for quite a while within the region. We saw him now and again in the [European] parliament.

“So it has come as a bit of a blow but we pick ourselves up and we carry on. Jane and myself are still working hard for the region and we will carry on.”

In an interview today, Ukip leader Nigel Farage claimed the MEP “didn’t tell us the truth” about the alleged employment of illegal immigrants in his restaurant business and there are “some big open questions in Brussels about money”.

There were also claims of interference in candidate selection in Keighley, West Yorkshire and links with “political extremists” from Pakistan.

He warned Mr Cameron “caveat emptor” - buyer beware. Mr Farage said: “The final straw on Friday, (was) the hustings meeting that took place in West Yorkshire where gerrymandering appears to have taken place.”

Mr Bashir left his former party with a stinging parting shot, telling The Telegraph that Ukip had become a “party of ruthless self-interest”, was “pretty amateur” and had a “ridiculous” lack of policies.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday he said Ukip’s reaction when the party found out he intended to defect “sums up what is wrong with them”.

“They made a crude attempt to smear me with false allegations of irregularities in the recruitment of Asian members in Bradford,” he said

“There is not a shred of truth in any of the claims but it has made me more convinced than ever that I made the right decision.”

Talking about Mr Bashir’s defection, Tory chairman Grant Shapps said: “It has been discussed over a period of time obviously and it’s great to see.”

Mr Shapps played down the allegations surrounding Mr Bashir telling Sky News’ Murnaghan programme it was “absolute desperate stuff there by Ukip”.

He added the idea that Ukip was about to suspend him was “complete nonsense”.