David Cameron has promised to curb freedom of movement within the European Union in an attempt to placate his eurosceptic backbenchers.
The start of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham was overshadowed by the defection of MP Mark Reckless to Ukip. And Tory operatives have been nervous all week that Nigel Farage could spring another high profile defector on them at any moment.
In his speech to party activists today, his last before the general election in eight months time, Cameron said voters had a choice. "Me in Downing Street, or Ed Miliband in Downing Street. If you vote Ukip – that’s really a vote for Labour." He added: "On 7th May you could go to bed with Nigel Farage, and wake up with Ed Miliband."
Some Tories privately believe that a Labour victory in the Reckless by-election would actually help the Conservatives in 2015 - as it would illustrate their argument that splitting the centre-right vote between the Tories and Ukip lets Labour through the middle.
Aware that immigration is a big issue for many on the right of his party, the prime minister said" I will not take no for an answer and when it comes to free movement – I will get what Britain needs. Anyone who thinks I can’t or won’t deliver this – judge me by my record."
Conservative MP Nigel Mills, who led a backbench Tory rebellion over the lifting of restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians working in Britain, was welcomed the nod in his direction. "Great also to hear the prime minister promise to sort out EU migration. Has to be a renegotiation red line," he said.
Yesterday Europe minister David Lidington told The Huffington Post that in his negotiations with Brussels designed to give Britain a looser relationship with the EU, the prime minister would push to change the rules for new members joining the union.
"We will be wanting to make certain at a European as well as a national level that the right of people to work or retire around Europe does not become a right to travel around in order to collect social security benefits or commit crime," he said.
Immediately following Cameron's speech, the Confederation of British Industry warned that freedom of movement was "an essential part of the single market" and that "it must be protected". John Cridland, the CBI director-general said" "The EU is the biggest single market in the world and access to it is vital for firms, small and large.”
Cameron also criticised the European Court of Human Rights. He told Tory activists that the UK, the home of the Magna Carta, did "not require instruction on this from judges in Strasbourg". However he stopped short of pledging to withdraw Britain from the court, which upset some eurosceptic Tories.
Daniel Hannan Tweeted: "A year ago, Theresa May said the option of leaving the ECHR was "on the table". It doesn't seem to be any more."Suggest a correction