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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Peer's UKIP warning to Howard
Michael Howard and Tory MPs
Howard 'could face his MPs anger' if UKIP does well
Michael Howard could get a "serious bashing up" from his MPs if the UK Independence Party does well in this week's elections, a peer has warned.

The prediction was made by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, one of five peers who had the Tory whip withdrawn for urging voters to support UKIP.

He said he "didn't know anyone in the Lords who isn't going to vote UKIP".

UKIP, which wants Britain out of the EU, believes it is poised to take support off both Labour and Tories.

I would be very surprised if Michael didn't get a very serious bashing up
Lord Pearson of Rannoch

At a news conference in the House of Lords, Lord Pearson said the executive of the Tory 1922 Committee would take UKIP's success in the European, local and London mayoral elections "very seriously".

"I think if UKIP do well enough tomorrow [Thursday], then I think there will be very substantial meetings down the other end [in the Commons]," he said.

"I would be very surprised if Michael didn't get a very serious bashing up."

Siren call

He said he knew many people who were going to vote UKIP, "including chairmen and presidents of many august Conservative associations".

The worse the results were for the Tories, "the better it will be for" those in the party's centre "to persuade the leadership to adopt an altogether tougher stance and therefore make UKIP irrelevant".

"That's what we are trying to do because then UKIP could come back into the Conservative fold, we think," said Lord Pearson.

The warning came after Tony Blair said it would not be "sensible" to pull out of the world's "biggest economic market".

UKIP says opinion polls indicate its support has increased since the 7% it achieved in the last European Parliament elections, held in 1999.

Soaring membership

Party leader Roger Knapman said applications for membership were coming in so quickly that it was impossible to keep up with them.

"It shot up from 20,000 to 25,000 in a matter of days and is going on at an enormous rate," he said.

"They are coming in not just from Conservatives - a huge number are coming from the Liberals and the Labour Party."

He said UKIP would keep on going until the three traditional parties say "there is a market for what UKIP is saying - the majority of the nation want to get out of the European Union, then we must accommodate them".



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