Tory turmoil over UKIP defector

The two men at the centre of Tory tensions over UKIP defection Credit: PA, Anna Gowthorpe, Matt Crossick

There's turmoil in the Welsh Conservatives with criticism and counter criticism from senior figures in the party following the decision to allow a UKIP defector to join the Tory group in the Assembly.

Mark Reckless quit UKIP last week after talks with Welsh Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies. He's to vote with the Conservative group in the Senedd chamber but won't rejoin the party he previously left and fought against in two elections.

That arrangement has been approved by the Presiding Officer but has caused a serious rift amongst Welsh Tories with public concerns expressed by MPs and private criticism of Mr Davies.

One AM, Nick Ramsay, today called for clarification. He told the BBC that he was unsure of the status of his group in the Assembly, asking whether or not it remains a Conservative group or a hybrid. He also warned that the questions could not be 'swept under the carpet.'

That's met with a furious response from a Welsh Conservative source who said Mr Ramsay along with all other AMs had 'explicitly agreed' at a group meeting last week that Mr Reckless was a 'fit and proper person' to join and didn't raise any concerns when he was given a further opportunity in a meeting with the Chief Whip on Tuesday morning

The source accused the Monmouth AM of 'opportunism or short memory' and of trying to rerun the leadership election which he lost to Mr Davies in 2011.

'Local council candidates in Monmouthshire aren't going to thank [Nick Ramsay] for this,' added the source. 'It's another reminder of why he's so unreliable.'

'This will end badly'

A senior Conservative contacted me to dispute that account, saying that 'three AMs voted against a suspension of the group constitution when it became apparent that the party would not accept Mark Reckless.'

'This will end badly,' the figure said. 'RT [Andrew RT Davies] will not survive this debacle.

In turn, the Welsh Conservative source disputed THAT, insisting that there wasn't a vote to suspend the group's constitution, that all 11 AMs agreed Mark Reckless was 'fit and proper' to join and that the only questions were about timings of the announcement.

The source says that the meeting was 'minuted to the Nth degree' in case there are further disputes about what went on.

The situation in Cardiff Bay may be confusing, but it's clear that the party at Westminster is unhappy. Several MPs have publicly expressed their concerns and someone familiar with the internal workings of CCHQ tells me 'they were furious' last Friday as the fallout began.

However the Assembly leadership moved quickly to deny rumours that Theresa May's joint Chief of Staff had spent Friday afternoon holding an emergency meeting with Mr Davies.

The leader himself laughed off the rumour on twitter:

At least Mark Reckless is clear about his status. He's changed his twitter biography to describe himself as a 'Welsh Conservative Assembly Member.'

Mark Reckless describes himself as 'Welsh Conservative' on Twitter