Ukip MEP Amjad Bashir has defected to the Conservative Party this evening, following an internal party investigation. Tomorrow’s Sunday Telegraph reports that Bashir, who was the party’s communities spokesman, says Ukip are a ‘party of ruthless self-interest’ as well as ‘pretty amateur’. He also says Ukip has a ‘ridiculous’ lack of policies. David Cameron has declared himself 'absolutely delighted'.
Just before news of his defection broke, Ukip released a statement announcing Bashir had been suspended pending an investigation into ‘extremely serious’ issues:
‘The UK Independence Party has a zero-tolerance policy and takes the matters at hand extremely seriously. The allegations against Mr Bashir are of a grave nature and we will be forwarding our evidence obtained so far to the police. UKIP will not tolerate anyone abusing their positions in the party, as we have a firm commitment to differing ourselves from the existing political classes. As a result, Mr Bashir’s involvement with the party was suspended today with immediate effect pending further investigations.’
What can they mean? I understand that Bashir was being investigated over several allegations of concern to Ukip HQ. The first was apparent financial inconsistencies in his expenses relating to the EFD group in the European Parliament. Secondly, some at Ukip HQ believe they were misled over a story in The Times about his restaurant employing seven illegal immigrants. Bashir resigned as a director of the company (which owns the restaurant) three days before the story in the Times was printed — but he told party HQ that he has resigned a month prior.
Finally, at a selection meeting for the Keighley constituency in Bradford last week, Bashir’s associate Mujeeb Bhutto turned up with twelve other individuals – who were not Ukip members and were signed up on the door. The local party was unhappy about this situation — as recorded in the leaked minutes of the Bradford meeting. Ukippers were also concerned that Bashir met with representatives from Pakistan’s MQM party (video here).
Bashir was due to attend a recent meeting with top Ukip officials to discuss these allegations but he did not turn up. His defection to the Conservatives came soon after.
Given these concerns and his defection, a Ukip source says ‘the Conservatives’ are welcome to him’. The Tories are saying that this is an attempt to smear a defector. Bashir will no doubt respond to these claims soon, so we’ll see whether the Tories' new MEP still has questions to answer.
UPDATE: I hear that Bashir has been pulled from his post-defection interviews this weekend, including Radio 5 Live.