Top Ukip MEP Patrick O'Flynn quits over Tommy Robinson links - and joins the SDP
Top Ukip MEP Patrick O’Flynn has quit the party after its leader drafted in right-wing activist Tommy Robinson for an advisory role on prison reform and rape gangs.
The party's former economics spokesman slammed Mr Batten's “growing fixation” with the former English Defence League chief and said the party would struggle to win over voters “disillusioned by the betrayal of Brexit by establishment parties”.
And he revealed he was joining the Social Democratic Party, a smaller successor to the Labour breakaway group from the 1980s.
Mr O’Flynn said in a statement: "Without any mandate from the membership or the party’s elected ruling body to go down this path, Gerard is transforming what UKIP stands for and offers to voters.
“Many longstanding party members have already left as a result.
“Today I am joining them because I have reached the sorry conclusion that UKIP under its current direction and at this decisive moment has become an impediment to the Brexit campaigning that I have energetically pursued for many years.”
The party's National Executive Committee this month opted to put off a vote on whether Mr Robinson could join the party until after Brexit in March 2019.
Ukip currently has a blanket ban on former members of the British National Party and the EDL joining the party, meaning Mr Robinson is currently barred from becominn a member.
Mr O’Flynn - a former political journalist for the Daily Express - said he would now be joining the eurosceptic SDP, which itself split from the group of the same name which went on to form the Liberal Democrats in the late 1980s.
He added: “So, like many on the communitarian wing of the party, 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 that I – and I believe many of our voters from 2014 – will be delighted to endorse.
“This will, I believe, enable me in my remaining time as an MEP to make a bigger contribution to the cause I was elected to pursue and have devoted my time to since taking the Daily Express to a pro-Brexit position back in 2010.”
The leader of the SDP, William Clouston, said the party was "delighted" to welcome Mr O'Flynn.
“Our aim is to provide a political home to all social democrats who seek a stronger more capable state along with greater individual responsibility, trust and social solidarity," he said.
"We have consistently supported the nation-state as the upper limit - and the defining unit - of democracy. The SDP believes the 2016 referendum vote must be respected."
The MEP's decision comes days after former Ukip leader Nigel Farage branded the move “shameful” and called for a no confidence motion against Mr Batten.
The former party boss accused his successor of “dragging Ukip into a direction of effectively being a, sort of, street activist party".
"It goes against all the things I did as leader to say we will talk about immigration, we will talk about the extreme forms of Islam,” he said.
"But, we will do it as a non-racist, non-sectarian party. This blows a hole in all of that."