By Desmond Hinton-Beales - 5th March 2012
A senior MEP from the Conservative party, like Roger Helmer, defecting to us sends a message that people are taking UKIP very seriously
Nigel Farage, MEP
UK Conservative MEP Roger Helmer has defected to the eurosceptic UKIP party following a protracted dispute with Conservative party headquarters over his attempted retirement and replacement as an MEP.
Helmer had resigned his position on December 31 due to disagreements over Conservative polices towards the EU, but held off until an agreement could be reached over his successor.
The man next in line on the 2009 Conservative list for the East Midlands constituency was fellow eurosceptic Rupert Matthews, the author of several books on UFOs, but Conservative party refusal to confirm him as Helmer's successor was a cause of frustration.
Helmer, who has represented the Conservative party in the European parliament since 1999, made his defection public at UKIP's spring conference in Skegness, UK, on Saturday.
Helmer wrote an open letter to his Conservative colleagues saying that he believed UKIP to be "closer than the Tory party to the conservative principles and values that brought many of us into politics in the first place".
"[UKIP] is right on Europe, right on climate and energy, and much closer to the views of most Conservatives on a range of issues including tax policy, immigration, 'human rights', foreign aid, university admissions and defence."
Helmer has in the past criticised former Conservative colleagues Bill Newton Dunn and Edward McMillan Scott for defecting to other parties instead of leaving their seats for another Conservative representative to take over.
However, the 68-year-old said that he "sought in good faith to do the honourable thing, and to resign in favour of the next-in-line Conservative Rupert Matthews".
The East Midlands MEP had previously announced that he "was happy to resign in favour of the next-in-line in the normal way, but I am not prepared to stand aside for some A-list Cameron protégée from St. John's Wood".
Helmer said that he believed he had "fulfilled" his obligation to the party and blamed his departure for UKIP on the "obstinacy and recalcitrance" of Conservative party chair baroness Sayeeda Warsi.
A Conservative party spokesperson in the European parliament told this website, "Given Roger's statements over the past months, this is no surprise."
Co-chair of parliament's EFD group and UKIP leader Nigel Farage welcomed the news, saying, "A senior MEP from the Conservative party, like Roger Helmer, defecting to us sends a message that people are taking UKIP very seriously."
Parliament's EFD group has grown in size from 27 to 34 MEPs over the past few months, drawing it equal on members with the left wing GUE/NGL group.
An EFD spokesperson told TheParliament.com "This is the logical conclusion to Roger Helmer's constant democratic and eurosceptic principles."
"We greatly welcome such a hard-working and highly-principled MEP to our fold. There is always room for more."
"I am sure it is a great relief for Roger that he is now free to espouse what he really thinks without fear of sanction from Conservative party headquarters."