Two Conservative MPs are scheduled to speak on the main stage of Ukip’s party conference next month in a highly unusual move that is likely to antagonise their own party.
Peter Bone and Tom Pursglove, both committed campaigners for the UK to leave the EU, were announced by Ukip as speakers for their spring event in Llandudno, Wales.
They are listed to speak as representatives of Grassroots Out (GO), one of the cross-party groups campaigning for the UK to leave the EU.
Both deny any suggestion they would defect to Ukip, but the move to address another political party’s conference is extremely rare and bound to infuriate their own whips. Politicians sometimes address fringe events at rival party conferences but not the main hall of the event.
The Ukip conference agenda lists Bone, the MP for Wellingborough, as speaking on the background of the GO campaign and Pursglove, the MP for Corby, as running through the group’s campaign strategy.
Bone told the Guardian they had been invited as part of the cross-party GO campaign, rather than as Tory MPs, and would speak only in that capacity if they accepted the offer.
“The invitation has gone to Grassroots Out,” he said. “GO would make the same offer to all the political parties. We would speak at any of their conferences about our campaign.”
Pursglove told the Mirror that he was undecided whether he would accept the invitation and the schedule that had been posted was provisional. If he did accept, he would inform his party’s leadership.
“We have received an invitation as Grassroots Out to the Ukip conference to present what GO is doing,” he told the Mirror. “That is an invitation we are still considering.”
Ukip’s spring conference at the end of March will be dedicated to the Brexit campaign, which its leader, Nigel Farage, has said is the most important political fight of his life.
Grassroots Out is a campaign backed by Farage, Bone and the Labour MP Kate Hoey amid infighting among some of the other leave groups.
It is planning a rally in London on Friday night to coincide with the end of the European council meeting at which David Cameron is hoping to secure a deal for reform of Britain’s membership before calling a referendum.
At that point, cabinet ministers who want to campaign for an exit from the EU will be released from collective responsibility.
“If any cabinet minister wants to come and speak at the rally, they are free to do so and we would love to have them,” Bone said.
Grassroots Out is affiliated to a new umbrella organisation, called GO Movement, which is applying to the Electoral Commission to become the official campaign for leaving the EU.
This article was written by Rowena Mason and Megan Ward, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 17th February 2016 19.21 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010