One of the UK Independence Party’s most senior politicians has defected to the Conservatives in a major blow to Nigel Farage’s general election campaign.Amjad Bashir, a Ukip MEP and the party’s leading Asian figure, told The Telegraph that Ukip had become a “party of ruthless self-interest” that was incapable of delivering a referendum on membership of the European Union.In a damning broadside against his former colleagues, he described Ukip as “pretty amateur” and condemned its “ridiculous” lack of policies. He said the party was “delusional” about its chances of winning seats in May.On Saturday night Ukip suspended Mr Bashir for alleged financial and employment irregularities.A Ukip spokesman said evidence obtained by the party in its investigations would be sent to the police.
But Mr Bashir described the move as a “desperate attempt” by Ukip to limit the damage of his defection.
He said: “On Friday I met David Cameron and applied to join the Conservative Party. It is clear Ukip’s action today is a desperate attempt to spoil this and is without any foundation.
“The issues raised in my notice of suspension are historic and well known to the party. Indeed, on one of them, Nigel Farage has publicly defended me over it.”
A Ukip source said the party had learned that Mr Bashir was defecting at midday on Saturday. Ukip issued a notice to Mr Bashir suspending him at about 5pm.
Mr Bashir, a Muslim and Ukip’s chief spokesman on communities, said he had decided to defect because only the Conservatives were in a position to control immigration and give voters a say over whether the UK should remain in Europe.
His departure will hurt Mr Farage, who had been planning to energise his election campaign with a round of set-piece media appearances today. Instead, the Ukip leader is now having to deal with the loss of his most prominent figure from an ethnic minority background.
David Cameron said he was “absolutely delighted” to welcome Mr Bashir into the Tory fold and urged voters who have supported Ukip to “come back” to the Conservatives at the general election.
The Prime Minister said that Mr Bashir’s move proved the election was not a “beauty contest” but a straight choice between a competent Conservative government and the “chaos” of Labour under Ed Miliband.
His defection represents a coup for the Tories as the general election campaign enters its final 100 days this week.
Mr Bashir had been one of Ukip’s leading lights even before he was elected to the European Parliament last May as MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber. He had been described as Mr Farage’s “secret weapon”.
As a Pakistani immigrant, he was regularly deployed by spin doctors as evidence that Ukip is not racist, after a succession of activists and candidates made derogatory comments about Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Mr Bashir’s defection will ignite the contest between the Conservatives and Ukip for the votes of Eurosceptics on the Right. It will be particularly welcome for the Tories, after they lost two MPs — Mark Reckless and Douglas Carswell — to Ukip last year.
In an article for The Telegraph, Mr Bashir says: “After almost three years as a party member, I realise that Ukip is more concerned with furthering its own interests as a political party than delivering for the British people.
“I’ve seen Ukip both at home, and abroad, and I’m sorry to say they’re pretty amateur. In the European Parliament, some of their MEPs think it’s acceptable to shout and fool around.”
He adds: “They think they’ll sweep up dozens of seats in May, but that’s delusional. What they are in very real danger of doing, however, is making a big enough dent in the Conservative vote to let Labour in.”
Mr Cameron told The Telegraph during a meeting with Mr Bashir that he understood why voters had supported Ukip in the past, when the Coalition had taken some unpopular decisions.
“I understand why some people have drifted away to Ukip,” Mr Cameron said. “I want to genuinely win those people back by saying look, we are the only party that can offer the strong immigration control this country needs; we are the only party that can deliver that referendum that the British people deserve.
“And crucially, this general election is not a by-election, it’s not a beauty contest, it is not a chance to send a message or make a statement, it is about choosing a government of the United Kingdom.”
Mr Cameron said: “I’m absolutely delighted that Amjad has decided to leave Ukip and join the Conservative Party. His story is inspiring. It’s another sign that in this great country of ours you can come to Britain without very much and you can be a member of the European Parliament, an MP, sit in the Cabinet.”
Meanwhile, Mr Cameron said broadcasters’ new format of two television election debates with seven parties followed by one with just himself and Mr Miliband showed “I was right to say you needed all the minor parties involved”.