A three-time UKIP leadership challenger who posed for a picture with a golliwog and had to deny endorsing Hitler has quit the party, citing its move to the right.
Bill Etheridge, an MEP for the West Midlands who stood unsuccessfully three times for the party leadership, said the party was now seen by “large swathes” of the electorate as “a vehicle for hate towards Muslims and the gay community”.
In his resignation letter he said that joining the party in 2011 was the “best decision” of his life, saying: “At one stage it looked like we were about to achieve a miracle and become a major force in Westminster regularly polling around 20% and offering a genuine new option in British politics.”
But he said the changes made by Batten had “changed the party beyond all recognition”, adding: “You have allowed your personal obsessions free reign. The party is now seen by large swathes of the British public as a vehicle for hate towards Muslims and the gay community.
“In addition, you and your entourage have imposed a manifesto upon us which actually includes nationalisations and more state control, anathema for a party which has libertarianism enshrined in its constitution.
“While there is a place for extreme nationalist and reactionary views in politics and I defend the right of you and others to hold and express your opinions, I do not believe these were the opinions and policies that UKIP MEPs were elected to represent.”
He added: “The best way for me to see out my mandate and to represent the huge numbers of people who voted UKIP and for Brexit in the West Midlands is to resign my membership of UKIP but to remain in the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group under the inspired and rational leadership of Nigel Farage.
“I wish UKIP well and leave with great sadness that the party I loved has left me and taken a different direction.”
The decision follows the announcement last week by MEP William Dartmouth that he was leaving the party, saying leader Gerard Batten was taking it “further and further to the right”.
Etheridge had had the UKIP whip withdrawn earlier this year launched following a row in which he told Batten to “go to Hell’ after he was threatened with disciplinary action over a controversial trip to the Crimea.
He had attended an event in April along with many allies of Vladimir Putin at which he criticised Britain’s involvement in airstrikes on Syria and called for proof that Russia was behind the Salisbury poisoning attack
He went on to lose his seat on Dudley Council in May’s local election.
Etheridge made headlines in 2011 after resigning from the Conservatives, for whom he had stood unsuccessfully in council elections, after posing with a golliwog in a picture as part of a campaign against “the politically correct brigade”. He joined Ukip shortly afterwards.
He made headlines again in 2014 when he highlighted the speaking style of Adolf Hitler during a public speaking seminar he gave to members of UKIP’s youth wing. According to Etheridge, Hitler was “the most magnetic and forceful public speaker possibly in history” who “achieved a great deal” in relation to convincing people.
He later clarified that “Hitler and the Nazis were monsters”.
Etheridge said he would continue to sit in the European Parliament as a member of the EFDD group led by Farage.
But Batten called for Etheridge to “do the decent and honourable thing and resign his seat, thereby handing it back to UKIP to which it morally belongs”.
He told the Dudley News: “I am sure the loss of his salary, daily allowance, and pension rights would be a small price to pay for a man of principle such as he.
“It was a great pity that Mr Etheridge was unable to make it to the UKIP Conference in Birmingham last month where he could have witnessed the party members fully behind my leadership – the people who put him in the seat he currently holds by dint of their efforts and donations.”