Nigel Farage has predicted other Tory and Labour MPs could defect to Ukip over the impact of “open-door immigration” should Douglas Carswell win the Clacton by-election.
Mr Farage is claiming the forthcoming election will be his party’s “high noon” after Mr Carswell resigned from the Conservative party and announced plans to stand under Ukip’s banner.
His unexpected decision stunned Westminister and sparked intense speculation about further defections from the Conservative ranks. Estimates have ranged from one and up to eight MPs who have held talks with the Eurosceptics.
Writing in The Independent, the Ukip leader said there is a growing number of Conservative and Labour back benchers who back the party’s aims, "who not only support Ukip fully in what they are trying to achieve but view the impact of open-door immigration and its effects on the lives of ordinary people with increasing urgency”.
“Indeed this week’s immigration figures and the ever deeper troubles of the eurozone clearly illustrate the point," said Mr Farage.
Ukip’s rising stars
Ukip’s rising stars
1/7 Suzanne Evans
A Tory defector who has only been in the party for a year. She was rapidly appointed national communities spokesman. A former BBC reporter who now runs a PR agency, she has won plaudits within the party for her confidence in front of the camera.
2/7 Steven Woolfe
A barrister from Manchester whose father was mixed-race and mother was white. He was invited to become financial services spokesman before he had even joined Ukip. Now an MEP, his ethnicity and northern upbringing are in strong contrast to the Ukip stereotype.
3/7 Margot Parker
A local businesswoman who impressed Ukip’s hierarchy with her spirited campaign in the Corby and East Northants by-election 18 months ago. She was elected as an MEP for the East Midlands last week. She has a no-nonsense style which party chiefs believe will be persuasive on the national stage.
4/7 Patrick O’Flynn
A former Daily Express journalist who became Ukip’s director of communications and was a strategist behind the Euro-elections campaign. An experienced performer on television who is close to Mr Farage. With his media background he could become a culture spokesman.
5/7 Amjid Bashir
A restaurateur of Pakistani lineage who is one three Ukip MEPs representing Yorkshire and the Humber and currently speaks for the party on small business. After his election he said: “Here I am... of Asian birth, of Asian parentage, Muslim, and I have been selected by this so-called racist party. It disproves that completely.”
6/7 Louise Bours
Until her combative appearance alongside Piers Morgan and Joey Barton on Question Time last Thursday, she was one of Ukip’s lesser-known faces. The new MEP for the north-west is a former actress whose full name is Louise van de Bours. Her northern credentials could come in handy in wooing Labour-leaning voters.
7/7 Paul Nuttall
Long serving activist from Merseyside who became Ukip’s chairman in 2008 and deputy leader two years later. He is a key weapon in the party’s attempts to broaden its appeal to working-class voters in the North of England.
"So if Douglas Carswell wins this by-election and those backbench MPs with a favourable view of Ukip believe they are more likely to win their seats as Ukip than as Tory or Labour, then more will follow.
"The Clacton by-election is of huge significance not just to the future of Ukip but to the whole of British politics. It will indeed be our high noon."
Official figures released this week showed net migration jumped to 243,000 in the year to March, a rise of 68,000 driven mainly by larger numbers of EU nationals coming to the UK.
The figures undermined the Prime Minister’s pledge to reduce net migration to below 100,000.
Mr Cameron, who described Mr Carswell’s announcement as “deeply regrettable”, said only the Conservatives could deliver an in/out referendum on the EU. "That is what until very recently Douglas Carswell himself was saying,” the Prime Minister added.
Meanwhile, Roger Lord, the man previously selected as the Ukip candidate for the Clacton seat, has vowed to fight Mr Carswell for the nomination.
Asked whether he would fight for the nomination, he told BBC's Radio 4 Today programme: "Absolutely. I have been assured I will get a fair hearing."