A senior UKIP MEP has resigned as deputy whip in the European Parliament over support within the party for an anti-Islam campaigner.
Anne Marie Waters, who founded the Sharia Watch pressure group and has called Islam “evil”, has been allowed to stand in UKIP’s leadership election.
Mike Hookem said he was not prepared to “turn a blind eye” to extremism.
He resigned after UKIP chief whip Stuart Agnew declared his support for Ms Waters.
In a letter to interim UKIP leader Steve Crowther – sent before Ms Waters was passed by the party’s national executive as a leadership candidate – he said he was “disturbed” by Mr Agnew’s support.
In a later statement, he said: “I strongly disagree with the views Ms Waters and Mr Agnew promote and I would like to put as much distance between me and them as possible.”
He said he was not a racist and would not support someone “who seeks to single out a section of our society simply due to their religious beliefs”.
Mr Hookem told the BBC he was “very unhappy” that Ms Waters was on the leadership candidate list and said: “The NEC has got this totally wrong, they’ve made a mistake.
“We’ve opened the door to the far right and I don’t want to be part of that.”
He said he would not quit the party if Ms Waters was elected, but he would not support her if she became leader.
‘I would quit’
Fellow MEP Nathan Gill has said he understands why Ms Waters had to be allowed on the ballot paper but that he would leave the party if she became leader.
“She shouldn’t be a member of this party, but we are where we are,” he said.
“If she was elected, I would have to leave.”
Former leader Nigel Farage has warned that UKIP will be “finished” if it becomes an anti-Islam party.
But the party’s deputy leader, Peter Whittle, said it was right that Ms Waters be allowed to stand.
Mr Whittle – who is also competing to be leader – said she had passed the vetting process.
“If you get through that then you should be allowed to stand,” he said.
Mr Whittle and Ms Waters are among 11 candidates vying to be leader after Paul Nuttall – who has previously said Ms Waters’ views made him “uncomfortable” – stood down after UKIP’s poor performance in June’s general election.
The 11 candidates are (in alphabetical order):
- David Allen
- Henry Bolton
- David Coburn
- Jane Collins
- David Kurten
- Marion Mason
- Aidan Powlesland
- John Rees-Evans
- Ben Walker
- Anne Marie Waters
- Peter Whittle
Ms Waters believes her anti-Islam message, including a proposed ban on the burka, the closure of all Sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration, will strike a chord with many voters.
Mr Whittle told the Today programme that he was concerned by the number of Sharia courts in the UK.
Sharia councils are tribunals that seek to apply Islamic laws to settle disputes. It is unclear how many exist in the UK.
“There is one law in this country and that is British law,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
He denied it was an anti-Islamic viewpoint.
He added that he was for a “cohesive multi-ethnic society” which is “united under British values and British laws”.
He said multiculturalism had led to “a more fragmented society”.
Going forward, he said the role of UKIP was “ensuring Brexit”.
He told the Today programme the political establishment is “chipping away at the whole idea of Brexit”.
He said his party must continue to look at the issues in British society which other parties “are cowards about”.
“UKIP has always been a party that talks about issues that other people do not like to talk about,” he said.
Voting papers will be sent to party members over the next few weeks and the new leader will be announced at the party’s annual conference in Torquay, held on 29 and 30 September.