London: British Prime Minister David Cameron has been dealt a double blow after a minister quit in a sex scandal and another lawmaker defected to eurosceptic UK Independent Party (UKIP).
In a surprise announcement, Minister for Civil Society Brooks Newmark stepped down yesterday after reportedly sending an explicit photo of himself online to a male reporter posing as a young female activist.
The 56-year-old married father of five tendered his resignation after learning that the newspaper was about to publish details of their exchanges.
"I have decided to resign as Minister for Civil Society having been notified of a story to be published in a Sunday newspaper. I would like to appeal for the privacy of my family to be respected at this time," he said in a statement.
Newmark's announcement came just hours after Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless sent shock waves through the Tory ranks with his declaration that he was joining Nigel Farage's "people's army".
He is the second Conservative to defect to UKIP within a month, dealing a blow to Cameron on the eve of his party's annual conference.
Outspoken Conservative Douglas Carswell jumped ship to UKIP in August, forcing a by-election in his seat in October.
For the Tories gathering in Birmingham for the final time before the general election in May, there could hardly have been a worse start to their annual conference.
Earlier, Reckless received an ecstatic reception from UKIP activists at their party conference in Doncaster after he declared he was leaving the Tories, accusing the leadership of failing to keep its promises on Europe, the economy and immigration.
"People feel ignored, taken for granted, over taxed, over regulated, ripped off and lied to," he declared to rapturous applause.
Cameron, arriving last night in Birmingham with his wife Samantha, wished waiting reporters "good evening" but did not respond to questions about the twin setbacks.
Nevertheless there was deep anger in the Conservative ranks, with a party spokesman denouncing the move as "completely illogical", warning "a vote for UKIP is a vote for Ed Miliband" and Labour.
Growing support for UKIP, which argues that Britain should leave the European Union to regain control over a range of policy areas from immigration to business regulation, is threatening to split the right-wing vote and make it easier for Ed Miliband, the leader of the centre-left opposition Labor party, to win in 2015.