Defection of Mark Reckless and Brooks Newmark scandal rock Tories at start of party conference
Prime Minister David Cameron has been dealt a devastating double blow after a government minister quit in a sex scandal and another Tory MP announced he was defecting to Ukip.
Cabinet Office minister Brooks Newmark resigned after reportedly sending explicit pictures of himself online to an undercover newspaper reporter in a tabloid sting.
His announcement came just hours after Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless sent shock waves through the Tory ranks with his declaration that he was joining Nigel Farage's "people's army".
He is the second Conservative to defect to Ukip within a month, joining Clacton MP Douglas Carswell.
For the Tories arriving in Birmingham for their final party conference before the general election in May, there could hardly have been a worse start to their annual gathering.
The twin setbacks completely overshadowed the announcement by Chancellor George Osborne of plans for a new squeeze on benefits to fund millions of new apprenticeships.
According to the Sunday Mirror, Mr Newmark - the Minister for Civil Society and a founder of the Women2Win campaign group - allegedly exchanged X-rated pictures over the internet with a reporter posing as a Tory PR girl.
The 56-year-old married father of five tendered his resignation after learning that the newspaper was about to publish details of their exchanges.
"I have decided to resign as Minister for Civil Society having been notified of a story to be published in a Sunday newspaper. I would like to appeal for the privacy of my family to be respected at this time," he said in a statement.
Earlier, Mr Reckless received an ecstatic reception from Ukip activists at their party conference in Doncaster after he declared he was leaving the Tories, accusing the leadership of failing to keep its promises on Europe, the economy and immigration.
"People feel ignored, taken for granted, over-taxed, over-regulated, ripped off and lied to," he declared to rapturous applause.
He dismissed Mr Cameron's promise of an in/out referendum on the EU as a "device" designed to deliver the "pre-ordained" result in favour of Britain's continued membership.
Mr Cameron, arriving last night in Birmingham with his wife Samantha, wished waiting reporters "good evening" but did not respond to questions.
Nevertheless there was deep anger in the Conservative ranks, with a party spokesman denouncing the move as "completely illogical", warning "a vote for Ukip is a vote for Ed Miliband" and Labour.
His constituency party chairman, Andrew Mackness, said that he was "astonished and disgusted" by the MP's action.
"Only 48 hours ago he proclaimed his support for the Conservatives and their plans for a referendum on Europe and he gave me assurances he wouldn't defect," he said.
"He has misled the hard-working people of Rochester and Strood who voted for him."
Like Mr Carswell, Mr Reckless said that he would be standing down as an MP in order to fight the seat as a Ukip candidate in a by-election.
Although he took the Kent constituency with a majority of almost 10,000 at the last general election, he may face a a tough battle to return to Westminster.
Mr Farage acknowledged that he did not enjoy the same "personal following that Mr Carswell has in Clacton", but he said he would do "whatever it takes" to get him re-elected.
In his last act as a Tory MP, Mr Reckless rebelled against the Government in the emergency Commons vote on air strikes against Islamic State militants.
Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said: "Even late last night he was leaving voicemails with people saying how much he was looking forward to coming to a campaign day this Sunday here in Birmingham Northfield for one of our candidates.
"People will come to their own conclusions about whether this is therefore a trustworthy individual."
However, Mr Reckless insisted he was trying to do the "right thing" by his constituents and accused David Cameron of breaking his election promises.
"I made a lot of promises to my constituents and I want to keep those promises on immigration, on the deficit, on political reform. The Prime Minister isn't keeping those promises, I want to do so and that's why I'm moving to Ukip," he told BBC1's Sunday Politics.
"We made all these promises in 2010 as Conservatives and they have been broken. David Cameron has had his chance, he hasn't kept his promises, I want to keep mine."
Mr Reckless was confronted with a message he left on Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps's voicemail the night before he defected in which he said he would be "very happy" to take part in a Conservative campaign event the next day.
"I sound a little more hesitant on that call than I usually do," he said, adding, "You can't discuss these things in advance. You have to make a decision and you have to move at a particular point in time."
He said that in standing down as an MP in order to contest the seat in as a Ukip candidate in a by-election, he was putting his political career "on the line".
"I'm being open, I'm being honest, I'm giving people a say, I'm trying to do the right thing by my constituents.
"Whatever the risk is to me personally, I think that's the right thing to do."
Downing Street said that Reading East MP Rob Wilson had been appointed the new Civil Society Minister.
Belfast Telegraph Digital