South Wales East AM Mark Reckless has defected from UKIP to the Conservatives, it has been confirmed.
By Mr Reckless voting with the Tories, it makes the group the second largest in the Senedd with 12 seats compared to 11 Plaid Cymru Assembly Members.
The Assembly’s UKIP group has called on Mr Reckless to resign.
In a press statement Mr Reckless said: “Since being elected to the Assembly in May I have been thoroughly impressed by the performance and discipline of [Welsh Conservative leader] Andrew RT Davies and the Welsh Conservative Group.
“The Prime Minister’s leadership since taking office has also been exemplary and 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.
“I want to be part of a strong and united team of Assembly Members in Cardiff Bay – one which continues to shine a light on the failures of Labour’s Carwyn Jones and his friends in Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats.”
Andrew RT Davies AM said: “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 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.
“Following the Assembly elections last May we’ve seen more of the same in Cardiff Bay with Labour being kept in power with the support of Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats and still failing to deliver for people and communities across Wales.
“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.”
Job done: Why I am joining the Conservative Group in the Welsh Assembly pic.twitter.com/7TFh9JD6zE
— Mark Reckless AM (@MarkReckless) April 6, 2017
Mr Reckless will now sit as an independent AM as part of the Conservative group, although a Welsh Conservative spokesman confirmed he is not a party member and is not seeking to be a party member.
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, he was blocked from rejoining the party.
While serving as a Conservative MP for Kent constituency Rochester and Strood, Mr Reckless defected to UKIP in September 2014. He stood down to seek re-election at a by-election in November of the same year and, despite winning, eventually lost his seat in the 2015 General Election.
His return to the Tories signals another reduction in the number of UKIP members in the Assembly, from seven – elected in May last year – to five.
The party’s leader in Wales, Nathan Gill, announced in August last year he would sit as an independent in the Assembly after being elected as a regional AM for North Wales, amidst infighting and debate over his role as an MEP.
UKIP Chairman, Paul Oakden, said: “We are disappointed to hear that Mark Reckless has decided to leave UKIP in order to join the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly.
“When Mark joined UKIP in 2014 we admired his long-term commitment to Brexit and his decision to put his country first.
“Having been elected as a Conservative in Rochester and 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. 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.
“After losing his seat at the General Election, Mark was a popular colleague and a diligent Head of Policy for the Party, before being awarded a top position in the UKIP list for the Welsh Assembly Elections in 2016. Those elections gave voters in Wales the opportunity to support a party rather than a particular candidate and one in eight voters backed UKIP. As a result, Mark was one of two UKIP candidates from South Wales East elected to the Senedd.
“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.”