LONDON (AFP) - Britain's anti-European Union United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which threatens to split the right-wing vote and hand victory to Labour in the 2015 elections, has suffered a reverse with the defection of one of its members to the Conservative Party, triggering a war of words on Sunday.
Mr Amjad Bashir, a little-known member of the European Parliament, described his former party in The Sunday Telegraph as one of "ruthless self-interest" with a "ridiculous" lack of policies, while the UKIP said it had already suspended Mr Bashir after becoming "alarmed" by his behaviour.
The UKIP said on Sunday it had already suspended MEP Bashir before the news on Saturday that he had joined the Tories. "We have been increasingly alarmed by Mr Bashir's behaviour over the last few months," Mr Farage told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme. "I tell you what he can't deny and that's his continuing association with political extremists from Pakistan despite us saying please, please, keep away."
He repeated claims that Mr Bashir "didn't tell us the truth" about allegations that illegal immigrants were employed in his restaurant business and said there were "some big open questions in Brussels about money".
Mr Bashir hit back calling the accusations a "desperate attempt" to smear him to distract from his defection while Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said he was "absolutely satisfied" that the new recruit was a "mainstream" and "moderate" politician.
The UKIP, often mocked for its members' lack of party discipline and unsophisticated policies, has shaken up the political landscape in Britain over the past few years.
The Tories have become increasingly concerned by the popularity of UKIP's anti-EU stance and leader Nigel Farage's "man of the people" appeal.
UKIP now has two MPs following defections from the Conservative Party, and won the European parliamentary elections held in May.
UKIP was until a few years ago a marginal party with the single goal of ending Britain's membership of the European Union. But it has become an increasingly-powerful political force, pushing immigration issues up the agenda.
Prime Minister David Cameron is desperate to stem the tide of voters flowing to UKIP, fearing they will split the right-wing vote and hand victory to Labour in the elections due later this year.