CONFIRMED: Mark Reckless joins Conservatives in Welsh Assembly after defecting from Ukip

PUBLISHED: 13:18 06 April 2017 | UPDATED: 19:34 06 April 2017

Mark Reckless after winning Rochester and Strood seat for Ukip in November 2014

Mark Reckless after winning Rochester and Strood seat for Ukip in November 2014

Isabel Infantes/07795350975

The former Rochester and Strood MP ruffled feathers when he defected from the Tories to Ukip in 2014

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Mark RecklessUkip's Nigel Farage and Mark Reckless

Former Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless has quit Ukip and joined the Conservative group in the Welsh Assembly, the Tory Party has confirmed.

While the Conservatives have clarified he has not rejoined the party as such, it remains a sensational move, less than three years after he defected from the Tories in the Kent constituency.

The move appears to have taken even members of the party by surprise, after South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay told us earlier this morning he could not see Mr Reckless being welcomed back because “he has soiled the nest”.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Mr Reckless said: “I leave Ukip positively, having achieved our joint aim, a successful referendum to leave the EU.

“For me it is job done now that article 50 has been triggered.

“I campaigned all my adult life for us to leave the EU. Now we are, under a Conservative government. I support Theresa May, and her team of Brexit ministers, to deliver.”

He added: “She has been steadfast in her position to deliver on the wishes of the people of Wales and the United Kingdom, building a united country that works for everyone and not just the privileged few.”

Mr Reckless’ move means they overtake Plaid Cymru as the second largest party in the Assembly, making them the official opposition to Labour.

The move was warmly welcomed by the leader of the Conservative group in the Assembly, Andrew RT Davies.

“Since being elected to the Senedd last year, Mark has proven himself to be a hard-working and dedicated AM who has been an effective representative for the South East Wales region,” he said.

“He will now be able to continue this work as part of a strong and united team which will be the official opposition in the Assembly.

“Mark’s decision to join the group is testament to the strength and unity of the Welsh Conservative team in Cardiff Bay which provides the only real opposition to a tired and complacent Labour administration.”

Ukip chairman Paul Oakden said the party was “disappointed” at Mr Reckless’s decision and that he should give up his seat for a Ukip candidate having been elected to assembly through the party list system.

“Having been elected as a Conservative in Rochester & Strood, Mark didn’t think it right to sit as an MP for another party without asking the electorate for their endorsement in a by-election,” he said.

“A position that was right as it was honourable.

“In the campaign that followed, our membership worked incredibly hard to ensure that Mark retained his seat.

“It is now incumbent on Mark Reckless to relinquish a position he has only by virtue of a Ukip mandate.

“The position should go to the next Ukip candidate on the regional list.”

Mr Mackinlay - one of the founding fathers of Ukip himself - was working as a councillor in Medway while Mr Reckless was the area’s representative, and said he couldn’t forsee a return to the party generally.

“We had the same discussion when Douglas [Carswell, MP who recently defected from Ukip] left,” he told us.

“They left the nest and soiled it very badly and that will take a lot of cleansing.

“He was my MP and the area fought very hard for him to win.

“It’s never going to be clean when you break away but the way it was done with Mark was very messy and I’d say him coming back looks practically impossible for a long period of time.”

However, the MP was accused of hypocricy by Chris Wells, leader of the only Ukip-controlled council in the country, in Thanet.

“I am fascinated by Mr Mackinlay’s view, bearing in mind he returned to the Conservative Party himself and appears to have pulled up the drawbridge behind him,” he said.

On the impact of Mr Reckless’ reported departure on voters in Kent ahead of next month’s county council elections, Cllr Wells said: “On behalf of all the Ukippers who work hard every day to deliver the services that our residents want, I would simply say the quicker our central party sorts itself out and works out who is doing what, the easier life will be.”

Mr Mackinlay, however, has predicted an “absolute wipeout” of Ukip’s seats on KCC.

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