CLAIMS and counter- claims have swirled around Westminster that not only Conservative but also Labour MPs are considering defecting to Ukip after Tory backbencher Douglas Carswell jumped ship and joined the anti-EU party.

Stuart Wheeler, the millionaire Ukip donor, claimed he had wined and dined some eight backbench Tory MPs to encourage them to consider switching.

"I didn't say, would you defect? I would say, would you like to meet Nigel Farage? Some of them said yes and obviously Douglas Carswell was one of them," said Mr Wheeler.

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But John Redwood, the former Welsh Secretary, branded talk of eight possible defections a "figment of Ukip's imagination", suggesting this was merely an estimate of the number of MPs who might have had lunch with Mr Wheeler. "Dream on Ukip," said Mr Redwood.

A senior Ukip source claimed the party was talking to up to 10 Labour MPs about defection. Vernon Coaker, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said: "I'm not about to jump and you won't see other Labour MPs jumping."

David Cameron described Mr Carswell's decision as "bizarre".

The Prime Minister said: "His decision is slightly bizarre because he fought as a Conservative in 2010 when we didn't have a commitment to an in/out referendum but he has left the Conservative Party at a time when we do have a commitment to an in/out referendum. That is a question for him to explain, perhaps, rather than me."

Mr Carswell joined Mr Farage for a walkabout in his former Essex constituency and defended his decision to quit, saying: "I stab people in the front, not the back."