Nigel Farage has tried to embarrass David Cameron on the day of his speech to the Tory conference by announcing that a former donor to the party, who has likened EU membership to a “first-class ticket on the Titanic”, has decided to support Ukip.
Arron Banks is to donate £100,000 to Ukip after describing Britain’s membership of the EU as unsustainable.
But the Tories pointed out that they could find no record of Banks having donated more than around £20,000 to the party over the last 13 years. Party sources challenged Ukip to provide proof for their claim that Banks had been a major Tory donor.
William Hague dismissed the move by Banks, who made his fortune in the insurance industry. His announcement was timed to unsettle the prime minister on the day of his speech to the final Tory conference before the election.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, the leader of the Commons said of the new Ukip defector: “I’ve never heard of him so we are not going to get too upset about that. It’s certainly not going to overshadow the prime minister’s speech today that someone we haven’t heard of has gone to Ukip.”
Tories will be relieved that Farage appears – for the moment at least – to have failed to upstage the final days of the Tory conference with a defection to rival the two MPs who have moved to Ukip. Douglas Carswell, who left the Tories in August, was followed last Saturday by his friend Mark Reckless. The former deputy mayor of London, Richard Barnes, followed their lead on Tuesday.
Farage hailed the support from Banks, who founded the Go Skippy car insurance firm, as a sign that his party is maturing as it attracts “serious financial backers”.
Ukip’s latest recruit said: “I’ve supported the Conservatives for a number of years but have come to the realisation that only Ukip supports my views. Being a member of the EU is like having a first-class ticket on the Titanic. Economically, remaining in the EU is unsustainable.
“We are being dragged down to the lowest common denominator of financial growth when we should be looking to trade worldwide and should be basing our future prosperity on a long-term global outlook. The Conservative party tries to sell us the myth that EU reform is achievable when frankly all Cameron can offer is tinkering around the edges. He is not even able to bring himself to say that he would support UK exit if his supposed reforms do not work.”
Farage said: “I am delighted to welcome Arron’s support to Ukip. His generosity will go a long way in our campaign. It shows a real development of Ukip that we are now attracting serious financial backers that will help secure our place in the political landscape. Arron recognises that it is the European Union that is holding Britain and her businesses back.
“The other parties are losing councillors, MPs and backers to Ukip, not only voters, and they are all playing their part in changing the course of politics in the UK for good. Our people’s army is really starting to grow.”
Hague denied the Tories had been unsettled by the defections. He told BBC Breakfast: “I think the conference has fully moved on from the defection of one MP to Ukip on Saturday. The gentleman you are talking about is not a senior figure in this party, not somebody I know personally at all.
“It’s up to the voters in the end, not people who are politically active and move about between parties, which happens in all directions. When I went to Clacton two weeks ago I was welcoming a Ukip councillor back to the Conservatives.”
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