Brexit Party supporters joining Conservatives to vote for anti-EU leadership candidates, analysis reveals

Exclusive: Dozens of Brexit Party supporters boast of joining Tory party to help elect a Brexiteer leader

Benjamin Kentish
Saturday 01 June 2019 19:18
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Jacob Rees-Mogg says most Tory voters are backing the Brexit Party

Brexit Party supporters are flocking to join the Conservative Party to help elect the next prime minister, new analysis has revealed.

A study of social media posts found dozens of supporters of Nigel Farage’s party boasting that they had joined the Conservatives to support Eurosceptic leadership candidates.

They include people who had previously been reported to the Conservative Party for alleged Islamophobia, including one who endorsed the idea of “a total ban on Muslim immigration” and another who shared a joke about Muslims being wiped out in America.

The dossier, compiled by the People’s Vote campaign and seen by The Independent, revealed dozens of Facebook posts from Brexit Party supporters who had successfully signed up to join the Conservatives.

A YouGov poll last week found that 59 per cent of current Tory members voted for Mr Farage’s party in last month’s European Parliament elections.

But the revelation that Brexit Party supporters are actively signing up as Conservative members to vote in the leadership contest is likely to fuel fears of “entryism” – an issue that has already been raised by several prominent Tory MPs.

Conservative Party rules state that members must have been in the party for at least three months to be eligible to vote, but many Brexit Party supporters claimed they had signed up for Tory membership months ago in anticipation of a leadership contest.

One wrote on Eurosceptic ringleader Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Facebook page: “I joined so I could vote when the time came.”

Another said they had signed up “just to be able to have a voice in who I want as next leader”. One said: “I joined the Conservative Party to get rid of May and her cronies.”

Phillip Lee, the former justice minister and a supporter of the campaign for a second referendum, told The Independent: “I have long since feared that some are joining [the Conservatives] now at the instigation of rivals now who do not have either our party’s interests or those of our country at heart. This dossier makes disturbing reading for all of us who love the Conservative Party.

“Our party members, most of whom remain some of the most sensible and decent people in Britain, will have the chance to pick not only our next leader but our next prime minister. It is vital that we choose someone who represents our party’s great traditions, who will fight for business and families, not the extreme and entryist agenda of the narrow nationalists behind Nigel Farage.”

On Saturday Mr Lee was the subject of a no-confidence vote by Tory members in his Bracknell constituency. He has previously claimed that more than half of those behind the move had only joined his local party in the last year.

Last year, Leave.EU chair and former Ukip donor Arron Banks said he wanted to use his group’s 90,000 members to “recruit” 50,000 new members to the Conservatives to “make a real difference ... and help install a true Brexiteer such as Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg to the top job”.

Since then, Leave.EU has spent thousands of pounds on online adverts urging its supporters to join the Tories.

Despite widespread anger at the government’s handling of Brexit and the party plummeting in opinion polls, the Conservatives’ membership increased from 124,000 in March 2018 to more than 160,000 today.

The party has claimed this was a result of a recruitment drive introduced by Brandon Lewis, the party chair, but the new analysis is likely to lead to concerns that it is also a result of entryism.

The Conservatives have been contacted for comment.

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