Ukip leader Gerard Batten has defended his decision to appoint far-right activist Tommy Robinson as an adviser, saying the former EDL leader would help him turn the party into a "mass movement... a party for ordinary people".
On Friday, Mr Batten announced he had appointed Mr Robinson - real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - on rape gangs and prison reform due to his “great knowledge” about the subjects.
Former Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, branded the move appalling and accused Mr Batten of taking the Eurosceptic party in a “shameful” direction, and called for him to be ousted as leader.
But Mr Batten denied that he was taking Ukip to the extremes and offering a welcome to racists.
Instead Mr Batten said he was "taking the party in a new direction, which is that I want to make it a mass movement.
“I want us to be the party that represents ordinary working people, the unemployed who would like a job if they could get one, and small business owners. I want a party for ordinary people.”
Speaking to the BBC, the MEP also defended Mr Robinson, calling him "courageous" and "brave".
He continued: "He stands up for these victims of industrialised sexual abuse and by and large I think he does positive things.”
Yet Mr Farage said the appointment "appalled" him.
“The NEC of the party voted overwhelmingly last week not to have a ballot of members to let the man, potentially, join the party,” Mr Farage told Radio 4’s Today programme.
“But Gerard Batten has got this sort of fixation with Tommy Robinson and discussing Islam, and dragging Ukip into a direction of effectively being a sort of street activist party.”
Mr Farage later said he was concerned a pro-Brexit rally Mr Batten and Mr Robinson are planning for December 9 in London could undermine efforts to defeat Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement in a Commons vote in the following days.
“It’s a march through Westminster,” said Mr Farage.
“I know what will happen.
"It will be full of skinheads and people with tattoos to the eyeballs, they’ll all be drunk before they get there, there’ll be punch-ups and God knows what.
“And the next day, it’s the vote on the Brexit thing, and this is how Brexit will look – it’ll look like a bunch of far-right football thugs – and I am absolutely disgusted by it.
“I’ve held my silence as a former party leader until now but we now have to get rid of this bloke as leader because he’s not just damaging Ukip, he’s damaging Brexit.”
Mr Farage said he was writing to the Ukip National Executive Committee to call for a vote of no confidence in Mr Batten as leader.
He did not rule out returning as a candidate for the Ukip leadership himself but said it was “not top of my bucket list” after having already devoted 20 years to the party, but admitted: "If it had to be done, I’d consider it."
However, speaking on World At One, Mr Batten hit back at Mr Farage and said he was "amazed that Nigel is so concerned about this party now.
"He has done nothing to support Ukip in the last two years.
“This is not taking the party in the wrong direction.
"He has known me for 26 years, he knows what kind of person I am.”
Challenged over comments in which Mr Robinson once said he would remove all adult male Muslims who had recently entered the country, Mr Batten said: “Lots of people say things in their youth which they then regret and retract from later on.
“I’ve no idea whether that quote is true or not, I’d have to ask him about that. But that’s certainly not his view now.”
Asked about an occasion when Mr Robinson described an area of Manchester as housing “enemy combatants who want to kill and maim you”, the Ukip leader said: “If he was referring to some of the terrorists who live in these places, we certainly know that was true, don’t we, because there have been so many instances of it.”
Mr Batten said that in his role as special adviser, Mr Robinson would not have to join Ukip, which bars former members of racist organisations.
But he said that, unlike the British National Party or National Front, the English Defence League did not have a formal membership system, making it difficult to prove whether an individual should be excluded from Ukip.
He said Robinson’s appointment “signals to a lot of people out there that they can come and support us”.
Asked if racists were welcome in Ukip under his leadership, Mr Batten replied: “No, they are not and they never have been and they never will be.”