A SECOND political casualty for Ukip in the Welsh Assembly plunges the party into turmoil after South Wales East AM Mark Reckless quits to join the Conservative group.

The former Conservative MP for Rochester and Strood defected to Ukip in 2014, before he was elected into one of the four regional seats at the 2016 Assembly elections.

Mr Reckless becomes an independent AM, similar to North Wales AM Nathan Gill, who also quit the party, and the South Wales East AM will sit with the Welsh Conservatives, making the party the largest opposition.

In statement posted on social media, the former Ukip AM said: “I leave Ukip positively, having achieved our joint aim, a successful referendum to leave the EU.

“For me, it is job done now that Article 50 has been triggered.

"I campaigned all my adult life for us to leave the EU.

"As a country, it is right that we seek a sensible settlement with the EU, rather than no deal.

"The UK Conservative government is getting us out of the EU and I want to back it,” he said.

The Welsh Conservative group member praised the leader of the party and prime minister Theresa May and Andrew RT Davies, the leader of the party in Wales.

“Now we are, under a Conservative government, I support Theresa May, and her team of Brexit ministers, to deliver.

“In Wales, the Conservatives are the main opposition to Labour. It is time that we properly reflected in the Assembly.

“By joining the Conservative group, I ensure: the Conservatives are the second largest Assembly group, Andrew RT Davies is rightly recognised as leader of the opposition and greater influence on behalf of my constituents in South-East Wales.

“Like Theresa May, Andrew RT Davies has united his party since the referendum and, like her, he knows how to lead for the whole nation.

“If we want Wales to succeed, we should work with the UK government and their team in Wales, as I now will.

The chairman of Ukip, Paul Oakden, said the party were “disappointed” at Mr Reckless’ decision to quit, but called for the AM to hand over his position to another Ukip candidate.

“We are disappointed to hear that Mark Reckless has decided to leave UKIP in order to join the Conservatives in the Welsh Assembly.

“After losing his seat at the General Election, Mark was a popular colleague and a diligent head of policy for the party, before being awarded a top position in the Ukip list for the Welsh Assembly Elections in 2016,” said the party’s chairman.

“Those elections gave voters in Wales the opportunity to support a party rather than a particular candidate and one in eight voters backed UKIP.

“As a result, Mark was one of two UKIP candidates from South Wales East elected to the Senedd.

“It is now incumbent on Mark Reckless to relinquish a position he has only by virtue of a UKIP mandate.

“The position should go to the next UKIP candidate on the regional list.”

Mr Davies, the party leader, said: “The Welsh Conservative Group in the National Assembly for Wales is delighted to welcome Mark Reckless on board and we look forward to working with him.

“Since being elected to the Senedd last year Mark has proven himself to be a hard-working and dedicated AM who has been an effective representative for the South East Wales region.”

“He will now be able to continue this work as part of a strong and united team which will be the official opposition in the Assembly.

“Following the Assembly elections last May we’ve seen more of the same in Cardiff Bay with Labour being kept in power with the support of Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats and still failing to deliver for people and communities across Wales.

“Mark’s decision to join the group is testament to the strength and unity of the Welsh Conservative team in Cardiff Bay which provides the only real opposition to a tired and complacent Labour administration.”