UKIP’s sole MP has caused consternation by refusing to endorse Nigel Farage’s return as the party’s leader.
Douglas Carswell was asked repeatedly if he supported the decision to keep Mr Farage as leader but declined to respond directly.
The MP for Clacton was one of the panellists at a question and answer session in London organised by Conservative Home when he was asked his views after UKIP’s national executive refused to accept Mr Farage’s resignation.
Mr Carswell replied: "I heard about the unresignation on, I think Twitter, or whatever. You'll need to ask me about it later I'm not going to talk about that now.”
When challenged afterwards for his views and even whether he planned to leave UKIP he responded: “No comment.”
His responses prompted speculation that he intends to defect back to the Conservatives, and former Tory colleague Louise Mensch taunted him in tweets: “Problem; he believes if you switch parties you need to resign and fight a by-election, and he'll lose a by-election.
“On the other hand @DouglasCarswell, you ditched your opposition to centrally-imposed candidates sharpish when it suited you eh?”
During the Q&A session Mr Carswell made remarks that suggest he is critical of Mr Farage’s leadership.
In particular, he referred to Mr Farage’s attack on Romanian immigrants last year when he said he would not like to live next door to them.
“If the case for leaving the EU is basically an argument framed as a debate between people who are anti-Romanian immigrants verses business interests, the 'out' campaign will lose,” Mr Carswell was quoted by the Huffington Post.
“If, on the other hand, this is presented as a pragmatic step to make Britain a more free-market, open, classical liberal society, then I think we can win it.”
He added: “That means making arguments in a way that is softer, more gentle. And we need to recognise that if you want to be listened to sometimes you need to adjust your tone. And I think we need to do that and we will fight a very inclusive campaign.”
Mr Carswell had already ruled himself out of standing for the UKIP leadership and said in a blog post published earlier yesterday that he thought there were at least six other candidates who would do the job better.
In the blog he described himself as “despondent” at learning of Mr Farage’s defeat in the South Thanet constituency at the election but took heart from knowing that with the Conservatives in government there would be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.
“Nigel Farage has been an inspirational leader,” he wrote. “Like hundreds of thousands of other people, he inspired me to leave the comfort of by previous party, and join him. I was prepared to resign from Parliament and fight a by election in order to do so. I feel gutted that he is no longer our leader.
“Ukip's next leader needs to be someone that recognises our party exists first and foremost to get Britain out of the European Union. We should take heart from the fact that there now appears to be, for the first time in a generation, a Commons majority in favour of holding an In Out referendum.”
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