The UKIP leader Gerard Batten appeared to signal that his party was shifting further to the right when he joined an anti-Islam demonstration alongside a federation of football fans.
There were three arrests at the weekend demo in Sunderland, according to Sky News, as the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) scuffled with police who were keeping them apart from anti-racism protesters.
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage criticised Mr Batten’s presence at the march, telling Sky News that he should “be careful what company he keeps” and that the party should concentrate on Brexit.
After the march, Mr Batten told the anti-Islam demonstrators that crimes committed by Muslim child grooming gangs had been “covered up by the establishment.” He alleged that the Prophet Muhammad was “a war lord” who married a six-year-old.
The Democratic Football Lads Alliance was formerly known as the Football Lads Alliance, which was launched by a football hooligan to bring fans from different clubs together to campaign against Islam and grooming gangs.
Demonstrators said they wanted to draw attention to the prevalence of Muslim grooming gangs in British towns and cities, but anti-racism campaigners said they were using that as a smokescreen to promote extremist ideology.
Mr Batten said afterwards he “didn’t have a problem” with attending the rally and that the DFLA were “democratic and against extremism of any kind.”
The former salesman is the UKIP MEP for London and was elected unopposed as the new UKIP leader in February, succeeding Henry Bolton, who was ousted after less than five months amid controversy over his relationship with a party member.
Mr Batten has since been embroiled in controversy due to his outspoken comments on Islam, Ireland and the restoration of the death penalty and is widely viewed as leading the party to adopt a more extreme right-wing stance.
UKIP support is shown as running at between six to eight per cent in various polls.