The news that Gerrard Batten, Ukip’s leader, has appointed Tommy Robinson as a “personal special adviser” appals me.
Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, has a long criminal history including several spells in prison. He was instrumental in founding the thuggish anti-Islam group known as the English Defence League. Perhaps most importantly, his appointment could have a negative impact on the fragile state of Brexit.
Today, the UK stands on the brink of national disaster partly because our dishonest prime minister has not been held to account sufficiently in her dealings with Brussels. Millions of voters are furious at the way the political class has betrayed them. And yet Ukip, the one force which could and should have kept Theresa May in check to guarantee a clean Brexit, has under Gerrard Batten become obsessed with another set of issues altogether.
Batten appears fixated on the thoroughly unappealing Tommy Robinson. Wherever Robinson goes, he attracts ruffians. Violence never seems to be too far away from any of his events. Yet Batten continues to push the Robinson cause, despite the fact that the Ukip NEC recently and sensibly made clear they did not want a ballot of the members to allow Robinson to join.
This would never have been the case under my leadership because I put in place a rule that no former member of the EDL or the BNP could even be a member of Ukip, let alone hold a position within the party.
Ukip has never espoused a religious war against Islam. Mr Batten, however appears intent on taking the party down this very route. After 25 years of trying to build a successful brand, it’s pretty heartbreaking to watch.
Mr Batten’s latest idea is to propel Tommy Robinson, who has previously barely spoken about Brexit, onto the big stage. On December 9, likely to be the eve of the most important parliamentary vote of all time, this odd new double act is going to host a joint event before they lead a march through central London. If the only fully pro-Brexit party is seen to be sponsoring an event which will almost certainly attract skinheads and thugs, likely to end up in scuffles or worse, this could become the enduring image of Brexit.
For Ukip to fail would be a pity, but for Brexit to fail would be a catastrophe. We cannot afford to have the leader of Ukip attending such an event. It would be a gift to the Remainers that they would use against us for many years to come.
I am now writing to every member of Ukip’s NEC urging them to pass a motion of no confidence in Mr Batten’s leadership and next week I will meet Ukip’s MEPs and ask them for their support as well. We must stop Brexit being a plaything of the far Right. If Ukip continues down this path, the party will cease to be an electoral force – and Brexit itself be put in jeopardy.