Joe Murphy, Political Editor
27 Oct 2011
David Cameron’S European troubles deepened today as Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, claimed Tory MPs may defect after Monday’s revolt over an EU referendum.
In an exclusive interview with the Evening Standard, Nigel Farage said Conservative MPs, MEPs and peers had told him privately of their dissatisfaction with Mr Cameron’s stance.
“I’m not going to tell you they are on the verge of coming across,” he said. “All I can tell you is that it’s being discussed. I do know people in the Conservative Party – and I’ve spoken to some this morning – who are deeply depressed at the moment. Some of them have got to be asking themselves, ‘What if a whole group of us went to Ukip?’”
Mr Farage’s call to defectors comes amid mounting Tory tensions after Monday’s record Commons rebellion by 81 MPs and demands for powers to be repatriated from Brussels, including reports that former leader Iain Duncan Smith threatened to quit the Cabinet.
Former treasurer Lord Hesketh defected to Ukip recently, as did Paul Oakley, former London chairman of the Tory youth wing. Lord Tebbit, the former Conservative chairman and a hero on the Eurosceptic Right, said last week that some Tories would be “wondering if it is worthwhile any more”.
Mr Farage, a former trader in the London Metal Exchange, defected from the Tories in the early Nineties over John Major signing up to the exchange rate mechanism. “It was easy to me as I was so disgusted with that decision,” he said.
“I know it is difficult for other people. But 20 years ago, when they forced Maastricht through, there was nowhere for Conservatives to go. Now, I would argue that Ukip is a real alternative.”
He criticised Mr Cameron for posing as a sceptic to get elected, adding. “At Downing Street he has shown himself to be the most pro-EU Conservative prime minister since Edward Heath.”
He also attacked Ed Miliband, saying Monday’s vote would have gone the other way but for Labour backing the government.
A founding member of Ukip, Mr Farage is the party’s best known face, a fast-talking south Londoner with a penchant for pin-neat blazers. He spends two or three nights a week making speeches in far-flung parts of the country to draw in new members.
Next May’s London Assembly elections will test his plans to attract support beyond a core of EU-bashers. His pitch is “jobs, the economy and growth”, like the other parties, but with a Eurosceptic flavour. He is also willing to speak up for the financial services sector.
“We’ll be fighting the case for Britain’s biggest industry. London needs to think global, not European,” he said. “Just one EU directive, the alternative investment fund management directive, meant that in 2010 one in four hedge funds left London.”
The second pitch is on youth unemployment, currently 20 per cent. “It’s an outrage that 80 per cent of all new jobs created in the last year went to foreign-born migrants,” he said.
Mr Farage was badly injured last year when an aircraft became entangled in a Ukip banner during a publicity stunt. He said it was “initially terrifying. And then you face it all with a sense of resignation. You just think, ‘this is it, I’m not getting out of here’.
He added: “It aged me by about 10 years. I think I’ve grown up a bit. I’m just a bit calmer than I was.”
Mr Farage does not, however, appear calmer in his predictions for Europe. He forecasts conflict caused not by the EU’s collapse, as Angela Merkel fears, but by its existence. “There will be a series of mini civil wars, sort of IRA-style wars,” he said.
“Democracy is a safety valve. If you have no mechanism for changing your future, you are more likely to revert to other means. Gerry Adams, on the eve of the referendum in Ireland said, ‘we haven’t fought the British for 500 years to have Ireland governed from Frankfurt and Brussels.’
“The Germans slag off the Greeks. The Greeks burn flags with swastikas on them. Far from making us all friends, it’s turning us against each other.”