Tories fear more defections as MP quits to join Ukip
Senior Conservatives fear that more of their MPs will defect to Ukip after Douglas Carswell stunned the House of Commons by jumping ship to Nigel Farage's anti-EU party.
Tory whips were anxiously ringing round the "usual suspects" last night in an attempt to head off further defections after the party leadership was caught on the hop by Mr Carswell's unexpected decision, which was kept a closely guarded secret.
It was a huge setback for David Cameron on his first day back at work after a family holiday in Cornwall.
He is now under intense pressure to say he is prepared to recommend an "out" vote if he fails to win a good-enough deal for Britain before the EU referendum he has promised for 2017.
Mr Cameron, in Scotland to deliver a speech, told the BBC that Mr Carswell's action was "self-defeating".
"It is obviously deeply regrettable when these things happen and people behave in this way. But it is also, in my view, counter-productive," he said.
"If you want a referendum on Britain's future in the EU, whether we should stay or go, the only way to to get that is to have a Conservative government after the next election.
"That is what until very recently Douglas Carswell himself was saying."
Mr Carswell said the Prime Minister's policy was not "sincere", claiming he wanted to secure "just enough" to pretend change was happening in the EU but was not "serious about real change".
Mr Cameron faces two months of turmoil over Europe. Mr Carswell announced that he would resign immediately as MP for Clacton and force a by-election in which he would stand under a Ukip banner.
It will be held in October, possibly on October 9, casting a shadow over the Tory conference, which will end on October 1.
Mr Carswell, who had a majority of 12,068 at the last election, is the odds-on favourite to retain his seat, which would be a blow to the Tories seven months before the general election.
Ukip is strong in seaside towns with a large retired population and Clacton is seen as one of its best prospects in the country.
Mr Carswell faced an unexpected obstacle last night when Roger Lord, the Ukip candidate in Clacton, refused to stand aside.