Ukip leader Gerard Batten backs allowing Tommy Robinson into party
Ukip leader Gerard Batten has told ITV News he would like to see former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson join the party, describing him as an "incredibly brave man".
He was speaking at the party's conference, after clashing with former leader Nigel Farage, who warned it faced “total and utter marginalisation” if it moves to the far-right extremes of politics.
As the conference kicked off in Birmingham, Farage said he was “really upset” by the prospect of figures such as Tommy Robinson - real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - being admitted into Ukip.
"I would like a way to be found for us to relax the rules so he can join because I think he is a particular individual," said Batten.
"I don't want to relax the rules in general against people who have belonged to parties who we have a proscription for," he added.
"I think he's an incredibly brave man who has stood up for ordinary people and victims of abuse etc. I think he is rash sometimes in what he does but that's offset by his terrific courage in the cause that he's trying to defend."
Batten hit back at Farage, saying his predecessor should be “a little bit more careful about criticising me” when he had himself shared platforms with right-wing German party Alternative fur Deutschland.
Theresa May's strongly-worded statement on Brexit negotiations which she made today was dismissed as more "pantomime" by Batten.
The Prime Minister had claimed the UK had "treated the EU with nothing but respect" during the negotiations and "the UK expects the same".
He also said any agreement on EU citizens' rights should be reciprocal.
The leader used his speech at the conference to warn Remain-supporting MPs the party is “coming for you” as he insisted Ukip had to become “an electoral threat once again”.
He told delegates he might sometimes do things they did not agree with but asked them to “believe that I do that because I sincerely believe that it is right for our country and right for our people”.
He was applauded when he said the UK should not be asking Brussels “how to leave, we should be telling them how it is going to work”.
He then turned his fire on Remain-supporting MPs, especially those in constituencies that voted to leave the EU in 2016.
The Ukip leader had earlier said he stood by his descriptions of Islam as a “death cult” which sanctioned the use of sex slaves.
Batten defended his appearance at a recent demonstration by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, saying “it was not an anti-Muslim rally, it was a rally for justice for women and children victims of sexual abuse”.
Following the rally, Farage said Batten should be careful “what company he keeps”, and on Thursday the former Ukip leader told the Press Association Ukip was “in danger now, unless it changes direction very, very quickly, of total and utter marginalisation”.
But Batten told Sky News on Friday: “Nigel is friends with Donald Trump, who a lot of people like to call names. Nigel has gone to speak on platforms with Alternative fur Deutschland, who a lot of people don’t like and call names.
“He is entitled to do that, because they are democratic parties, and I am entitled to speak at rallies organised by people who believe in democracy. I think maybe he should be a little bit more careful about criticising me, because he has done similar things.”
Batten denied taking Ukip to the far right: “For the last 25 years, myself and everyone else in Ukip has worked to restore our country’s former status as an independent democratic nation that is governed by our politicians, elected by us, sackable by us, in accordance with our traditional laws and customs and constitution.
“If that makes you far right, I think whoever thinks that has got a very strange idea about what constitutes far right.”
Batten had said he wants to use the two-day conference in Birmingham to present the party as a true populist alternative.
He unveiled an interim manifesto including plans for an “NHS health card” entitling British citizens to free medical treatment. Non-Britons would require private medical insurance unless a post-Brexit UK had done a reciprocal deal with their government.
Other pledges include turning the UK Border Force into a “Migration Control Department” with a remit to exclude “extremist” Muslims and a five-year ban on property purchases by foreign nationals in designated areas.
Ukip’s electoral fortunes have waned since the vote in favour of Brexit at the EU referendum in June 2016.
After Farage stepped down as leader following a second term in September 2016, Diane James, Paul Nuttall and Henry Bolton have all led the party for short periods before quitting for various reasons.
At the general election a year later, the party secured 1.8% of the vote, down from 12.6% at the 2015 general election, and it failed to win a single seat at Westminster.