Nigel Farage, one of the key architects of Brexit, quit the party he once led Tuesday evening over its recent affiliation with far-right extremist Tommy Robinson and its growing anti-Islam “fixation.”
The prominent euroskeptic was leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, known as UKIP, for nearly a decade until 2016, when he stepped down after achieving its core goal of persuading Britons to vote to leave the European Union.
Since his departure, the party has tacked further to the right, with current leader Gerard Batten reshaping UKIP as a “radical populist” anti-Islam vehicle and recruiting high-profile anti-Islam activist Robinson as an adviser.
Farage announced on a radio show and in a newspaper column that he’d had enough, saying he no longer recognized the party since it embraced extremist politics.
He said Batten, who became the party’s leader in February, “seems to be pretty obsessed with the issue of Islam, not just Islamic extremism, but Islam, and UKIP wasn't founded to be a party fighting a religious crusade.”
Farage especially lamented Batten’s close association with Robinson, who Batten appointed as his personal adviser on “Muslim rape gangs” last month.
The association with Robinson, the former founder of the far-right street movement the English Defense League, would damage the party’s mainstream appeal and had brought an unwelcome new element to the party, Farage said.
“Many have criminal records, some pretty serious, and all of it has been dragging UKIP away from being an electoral party into a party of street activism,” he added.
Farage also criticized Batten’s support for a pro-Brexit rally organized by Robinson in London on Saturday, saying it was likely to “inspire violence and thuggish behaviour” and could harm the Brexit cause at a critical time in the process.
Farage, who was a member of UKIP for 25 years and remains its highest-profile politician, has rebranded as a political pundit since quitting the leadership in the wake of the 2016 EU referendum, appearing regularly on Fox News.
Meanwhile, the party — which gained the third-highest number of votes in the 2015 election — has been riven with infighting, with Batten its fourth leader since Farage’s departure.
The party’s hard-line direction under Batten, who has described Islam as a “death cult,” called for Muslim-only prisons and floated a Trump-like ban on immigration from Muslim countries, has sparked an exodus of its politicians, with three other UKIP members of the European Parliament quitting in recent weeks.
Batten’s appointment of Robinson — whose propaganda has been linked to a terror attack on a London mosque last year — has proven controversial within the party.
While its national executive voted to back Batten’s leadership in an emergency meeting Sunday, it issued a statement that it did not endorse his appointment of Robinson. As a former member of the English Defense League, an anti-Islam street movement with hooligan affiliations, Robinson is barred from joining UKIP under party rules.
Cover image: United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage speaks during a campaign rally for Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump at the Mississippi Coliseum on August 24, 2016 in Jackson, Mississippi. (Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)