Top Tory Lee Canning quits to join anti-Assembly party

The deputy chairman of the Welsh Conservatives has resigned, quit the party and joined the single-issue ‘Abolish the Welsh Assembly’ party.

Lee Canning’s departure is in keeping with "views [which] were frequently at odds with those in the Welsh Conservatives" according to his now former boss, the party’s chairman in Wales.

It’s a move which will be seen as timed to add to other problems for the Tory General Election campaign in Wales, which has already seen the resignation of the Welsh Secretary and a row over the selection and withdrawal as a candidate of a former MP convicted of falsifying expenses invoices.

But senior figures in the party insist that none of these things are raised on the doorstep where people are, they say, more concerned with resolving Brexit once and for all.

Before quitting last night, Lee Canning had been a party member for 17 years. He had previously held senior positions in the Tax Payers’ Alliance and the anti-EU group Business for Britain.

He now describes himself on twitter as "Head of Political Operations" for Abolish the Assembly and the party says it hopes he will stand for them ‘in a key target seat’ in the next Assembly election in 2021.

'Abolish the Welsh Assembly' was formed in 2015 with the stated position of only having one policy, to end Welsh devolution after 20 years.

It is not fielding any candidates in the 2019 General Election.

The chairman of the Welsh Conservatives, Lord Byron Davies, said, "Lee Canning’s views were frequently at odds with those in the Welsh Conservatives, clearly demonstrated by his motives for joining the party that wishes to abolish the Senedd. Whilst I thank him for his service to the Welsh Conservatives, it is clear his political views are now very much at odds with ours."

There have been mixed reactions from other Conservatives privately.

One told me Lee Canning’s departure was "no loss" although another said that, while he may not have been "everyone’s cup of tea", he had a proven record as a hard worker.

A third suggested he had been blocked from standing in several constituencies.

Political opponents have seized on his move as "proof" that Welsh Conservatives are opposed to devolution. Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorwerth tweeted, "See? They won’t rest ‘til they’re rid of #Wales."