UKIP leader Gerard Batten has defended his decision to hire controversial far-right activist Tommy Robinson as an adviser and says he had saved the party "from oblivion".
Batten’s predecessor Nigel Farage strongly condemned Robinson’s appointment
But on Friday, Batten told this site: “I am surprised that Nigel is now concerned about UKIP. Last February the party was about to disappear. Nigel had washed his hands of it. I stepped up to save it and we are now sound financially, membership numbers are going up, and we are rising in the polls.
“Nigel has expressed no interest in UKIP for the last two years, and recently said he is giving ‘100 percent of his effort to Leave Means Leave, a pressure group. That leaves zero percent left for UKIP.
“I am also surprised that he said he will write to the NEC. Not long ago he described them as ‘low grade people’ and a ‘swamp that needed draining’. I’m not sure how well they might receive any letter from him, should it arrive.”
“As UKIP’s Leader I have to make decisions. So far my decisions have proved beneficial to the Party, and time will tell if my decisions will deliver the new members, money and votes we need. I am pleased at the high level of support I am receiving from the rank and file of the party”.
Batten said many people respected Robinson's "stand on things".
“As UKIP’s Leader I have to make decisions. So far my decisions have proved beneficial to the Party, and time will tell if my decisions will deliver the new members, money and votes we need. I am pleased at the high level of support I am receiving from the rank and file of the party” UKIP leader Gerard Batten MEP
Batten, who is the fourth person to lead UKIP since Farage quit in the wake of the 2016 EU referendum, said he believed he would see off any challenge to his leadership.
Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, will advise him on rape gangs and prison reform.
In May, the 35-year old former English Defence League leader was jailed for 13 months for contempt of court, which sparked a series of #freeTommy protests.
His conviction was later quashed over procedural concerns and the case has now been referred to the attorney general.
Robinson had previously been sentenced to 18 months in jail in January 2014 for mortgage fraud and for 10 months in January 2013 for a passport offence.
Farage told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that, under his leadership, the party had talked about mass immigration and extreme forms of Islam but "as a non-racist, non-sectarian party".
"This blows a hole in all of that," he warned.
While he had not "given up" on UKIP, he said he would be writing to the party's ruling National Executive Committee urging a vote of no confidence in Batten as leader and "that we get rid of him".
"We can have one last go at getting rid of somebody who as leader is dragging us in a shameful direction."