Mark Reckless, Ukip’s second elected MP, has criticised his leader Nigel Farage for changing party policy on the hoof following a row over whether European migrants would be forced to leave Britain if the UK broke away from the EU.
Opponents of Reckless, who won the Rochester and Strood byelection on Thursday, claim the former Tory had said existing EU migrants would only be allowed to stay in the UK for “a transitional period” if Britain did leave the union.
Reckless said he had been in “very close contact” with Farage and Steven Woolfe, the party’s immigration spokesman, before he made the comments on Wednesday.
“Until Nigel changed it on Wednesday, the policy of the party was everyone can stay for the transitional period, no doubt about that … there would then be a permanent arrangement which would be part of the EU negotiation,” Reckless told the Times on Saturday.
“The policy changed on Wednesday and I’m a bit sore about how I sort of came out of that, because I don’t actually think I said I was only talking about welcoming people of particular circumstances. I’ve always thought we should allow people to stay permanently, regardless, because that’s the right thing to do by them and it’s also the right thing for our party in terms of how we want to look to the country.”
The day before the byelection, at an event broadcast by ITV Meridian, Reckless was asked what he thought should happen to a Polish plumber who lived in the area and whose children went to school there.
He responded: “I think in the near term we’d have to have a transitional period; we should probably allow people who are currently here to have a work permit at least for a fixed period,” he said. “People who have been here a long time and integrated in that way, I think we’d want to look sympathetically at.”
Reckless later told BBC Kent that his words had been “twisted”. “What will happen is that anyone who is lawfully in this country, if they are from the EU under EU rules they will be able to stay with a work permit,” Reckless said. “We don’t want any mass movements of people … I’m absolutely astonished that the Tories are twisting this in the way that they are.”
The Ukip leader said Reckless had been referring to the negotiations that would take place during a “transitional period” between a vote to leave the EU and actual withdrawal.
Farage said both Labour and Conservative MPs would be considering whether to defect to Ukip over the coming days following his party’s latest electoral victory. He claimed to have held talks with members from both parties.
David Cameron is likely to come under renewed pressure from Tory Eurosceptics to harden his demands to repatriate powers from Brussels in order to curb immigration from the European Union.
Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen called on the prime minister to counter the appeal of Ukip by promising to put himself at the head of the campaign to leave the EU if he was unable to achieve a satisfactory renegotiation of the terms of Britain’s membership.
“We need the prime minister to say that and I think that will take the legs from under Ukip,” he said.