One of the Conservative Party's biggest financial backers in effect defected to the UK Independence Party last night, claiming he was fed up with David Cameron's policy on Europe.
Spread-betting millionaire Stuart Wheeler said he doubted the Tory leader would hold a referendum on the EU's Lisbon Treaty – and revealed he is giving £100,000 to the Euro-sceptic Ukip. Mr Wheeler told the News of the World he would vote for Ukip in European polls in June.
The paper said that Mr Wheeler now intended to vote for Ukip - which campaigns for withdrawal from the EU - in the European parliamentary elections in June, although he would continue to support the Tories the local and general elections.
"The EU is doing so much damage to our economy and our way of life that I can no longer vote Conservative at the European elections," he told the paper.
"The Conservatives - though perhaps more Euro-sceptic than Labour - just wish no one would talk about the EU so that they can win the general election in peace."
He said that his doubts had been heightened by the tone of recent remarks by Mr Cameron.
"My doubts about his commitment to doing anything effective were increased this week when I was told that he had got 70 Conservative MPs together and told them the EU issue did not matter," he said.
"It fits in with what a great many people believe to be his attitude. Furthermore he forbade two Euro-sceptic MPs from speaking at a Euro-sceptic fringe meeting at the party conference when I was there last year.
"He simply must stick to the commitment he gave."
While Ukip refused to comment tonight on the reported donation, the Tories insisted that they would not be swayed by the actions of one wealthy backer.
"Our policies on Europe are robust and we are committed to a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty," a spokesman said.
"Conservative policy on Europe - as on other matters - is decided by David Cameron and his Shadow Cabinet and not by any donors."
Labour, however, reacted gleefully to what they saw as a fresh bout of Tory turmoil over Europe after a prolonged period of apparent calm on the issue.
"Just weeks ago senior Tories were recommending Stuart Wheeler for a peerage - now he's become the latest casualty in David Cameron's internal rows over Europe," said former Europe minister Denis MacShane.
"It's a pity that once again the Tories are still fighting each other over Europe and the Lisbon Treaty instead of focusing on what families and businesses really need and care about."