Today Ukip went from a political party with one MP, to a political party with no MPs. Douglas Carswell has quit the party to sit as an independent. In a statement on his website, the MP for Clacton said he left Ukip on amicable terms ‘in the knowledge that we won’:
‘Like many of you, I switched to UKIP because I desperately wanted us to leave the EU. Now we can be certain that that is going to happen, I have decided that I will be leaving UKIP.
I will not be switching parties, nor crossing the floor to the Conservatives, so do not need to call a by election, as I did when switching from the Conservatives to UKIP. I will simply be the Member of Parliament for Clacton, sitting as an independent.
I will leave UKIP amicably, cheerfully and in the knowledge that we won.’
The news ought not to come as much of a surprise. Carswell could hardly be described as the most enthusiastic Ukip politician — appearing at last month’s Ukip Spring conference via video link. Following a toxic feud with Nigel Farage, Carswell admitted in the aftermath of the Leave vote that he defected from the Conservatives to Ukip to ‘detoxify’ the party ahead of the EU referendum. Carswell – along with other Conservative figures such as Dan Hannan – worried that Nigel Farage would prove too divisive and put people off voting Leave if he were to take on a big role in the campaign.
As Ukip’s only MP, Carswell helped Vote Leave to secure the Electoral Commission designation to be the official Leave campaign — at a time when the majority of the party were affiliating with the Nigel Farage-backed Grassroots Out. This meant that the then Ukip leader played a reduced role in the big debates, with Vote Leave using their authority wherever possible to send Brexiteers they thought to have a broader appeal onto the airwaves.
The news of Carswell’s departure puts Paul Nuttall in a tricky position. He appeared to take Carswell’s side in the ongoing feud with Farage last month when he ruled out a suspension for Carswell over the knighthood row. Without an MP — and without the prospect of Short money — the party looks increasingly reliant on big donors like Arron Banks, who is currently not even a member after criticising the leadership.
The likes of Farage and Banks will no doubt celebrate the news of Carswell’s departure –- something they have wanted for a long time. But as things stand, it’s Carswell who appears to have had the last laugh — succeeding in his aim which was to stop Farage becoming the face of the Out campaign. Now Carswell is out of Ukip, it’s a case of mission accomplished for the independent MP.