Eight Tory MPs have held talks about defecting to Ukip, the eurosceptic party's treasurer has claimed.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Stuart Wheeler said he held secret lunches with the MPs in order to sound them out about switching parties.
“I have had lunch secretly if you like, in a completely confidential way, with eight different Tory MPs," he said.
Millionaire Wheeler was thrown out of the Conservative Party himself after he made a large donation to Ukip in 2009.
He has insisted that the names of the Tory MPs he has been courting are known only to himself at Ukip leader Nigel Farage.
“Each was promised by me that I would not tell any of the others, or anybody else except Nigel," he said.
The claim comes after the Conservative leadership shot down suggestions the party might form an electoral pact with Farage in 2015.
Michael Fabricant, a vice-chairman of the Conservatives, had floated the idea of offering a in/out referendum on EU membership to Ukip in exchange for the party promising not to run candidates against vulnerable Tories.
Tory strategists fear a substantial Ukip vote in marginal constituencies could split the centre-right vote and hand Labour power.
On Monday Farage said there was no chance he would do a deal with the Tories as long as David Cameron remained their leader, suggesting the Tories dump him in favour of Michael Gove.Suggest a correction