UK Independence Party Treasurer Stuart Wheeler has revealed that seven sitting Conservative MPs have met with him to talk about defecting.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Mr Wheeler said that he wrote to nine Eurosceptic MPs, asking each of them to a private lunch. He said: “nobody will know you have done it, except for Nigel Farage and me”.
Mr Wheeler said that seven of the MPs accepted his invitation. “I had very good lunches with them, very friendly.” Some then went on to meet UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
However, the UKIP Treasurer conceded that getting them to formally defect would still be very difficult: “It is asking an awful lot of an MP to switch sides because he would like to be re-elected.”
While the ideal defector would be someone intending to stand again, who could take their whole constituency with them, Mr Wheeler said that the sort of MP most likely to do so would be someone standing down at the next election, and therefore with nothing to lose.
Mr Wheeler went on to say that he would place a bet on UKIP gaining 10 to 12 seats at next year’s General Election, but also said it was possible the party may not win a single seat due to the first-past-the-post system.
He declined to name any of the Conservative MPs who have met with him.