SENIOR Tories fear they are being infiltrated by thousands of Brexit activists joining to pick a new PM after the party’s membership swelled by a fifth.
The Sun can reveal that a fresh surge of 30,000 have joined the Conservatives within the last 12 months.
The influx boosted its overall numbers to more than 150,000 – at least a seven year high.
While CCHQ insiders insist some of the rise is from a new recruitment drive, other party chiefs say the prospect of having a say on Theresa May’s successor is now being heavily exploited.
They also suspect the ‘entryism’ threat will spiral because of last week’s new six month delay to Brexit.
Under party rules designed to block leadership contests from being influenced, new joiners can only vote in them if they have been members for three months.
But that failsafe will now lapse, as the membership ballot is set to be a lot later than June 27 – three months on from when Theresa May was forced to announce to MPs that she would stand down – as the PM also insisted she will only go after Brexit takes place.
One senior Tory official told The Sun: “We’re not going to be able to stop people joining up just to vote for a new leader now.
“If Theresa resigned when she intended to, at the end of May, we could have balloted the membership within five or six weeks.
“There’s very little chance of that now Brexit has been pushed back, so the danger is it will become a free for all.”
New joiners are thought to be both new arrivals from UKIP – dubbed ‘Blukippers’ – as well as a new wave of Remainers signing up to try to stop a new hard Brexit leader.
Dozens of Tory MPs have reported defections to their local associations from the anti-EU party.
Five Remainer Tory MPs are currently facing no confidence votes at the hands of ex-UKIP members, and former Tory minister Nick Boles resigned as a member of his local Grantham association before he was ousted.
We’re not going to be able to stop people joining up just to vote for a new leader now. The danger is it will become a free for all.
At the same time, Remainer Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach last month issued a call for all second referendum campaigners to join the Tories to have a say over the new
PM, dubbing the signing on fee as “the best £25.00 you have ever spent”.
Allies of Tory chairman Brandon Lewis also credit him with piling on extra members by opening 100 branches of the Young Conservatives.
His reforms have also seen membership now controlled centrally, meaning thousands more are being chased up for their annual renewals rather than leaving the task to local associations.
The Conservative Party doesn’t publish official membership figures.
But leaks revealed it fell by more than half between 2002 and 2017, from 273,000 down to 118,000.
A Tory party source said: “The Conservative Party has been on a steady membership recruitment and retention drive since spring 2018.
“We do not provide a running commentary on our membership numbers.”
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