A UKIP MEP has defected from the party in protest at its decision to bring English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson in as an adviser.
Patrick O’Flynn accused UKIP leader Gerard Batten of having a ‘fixation’ with Robinson, who will advise on prison reform and grooming gangs.
The party’s former economics spokesman has joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and claims many other members have quit over Robinson’s appointment.
O’Flynn announced his departure in a statement on his website, saying that UKIP had become an ‘impediment’ to the campaign to quit the EU which it once led.
He said: “Without any mandate from the membership or the party’s elected ruling body, Gerard is transforming what UKIP stands for and offers to voters.
“I have decided to join the resurgent SDP, which campaigned for Brexit during the referendum and espouses broad and moderate pro-nation state political values.”
O’Flynn, elected as UKIP MEP for the East of England in 2014, said joining the SDP would allow him to make a ‘bigger contribution to the cause I was elected to pursue.’
The former political journalist was UKIP economics spokesman until 2015, and has also led on media and sport for the party.
He said UKIP had decided to delay a decision on former British National Party and EDL members joining them until after the UK leaves the EU.
Batten said bringing in Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, as a policy adviser now will help him turn UKIP into a ‘mass movement… for ordinary people.’
He described Robinson, a convicted criminal still facing a possible Contempt of Court charge, as ‘courageous’ and denied moving the party further to the right.
Former leader Nigel Farage said he would be demanding that a vote of no confidence in Batten is held over Robinson’s appointment.
He said Robinson was a man ‘who’s done four prison sentences, lives under a pseudonym and wherever he goes there’s violence.’
The SDP was set up in 1981 by Labour’s Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams – the so-called ‘gang of four.’
They did so after Labour swung to the left under Michael Foot’s leadership and the party linked up with the Liberals to become a force at the 1983 and 1987 elections.
The SDP eventually merged with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats, with David Owen remaining as leader of what was left of the SDP.
Today’s SDP positions itself as a ‘radical centrist’ party and is Eurosceptic in its outlook.