Ukip’s deputy leader Peter Whittle has defended the right of an anti-Islam activist to stand in the party’s leadership election.
Former Labour activist Anne Marie Waters is the founder of the Sharia Watch pressure group, and has previously called Islam “evil”.
Several members had threatened to quit should Waters succeed, now the party’s National Executive Committee has permitted her to stand.
But Whittle, speaking today on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, said it was right Waters should be allowed to stand.
“I think the whole thing was done very rigorously,” he said. “There was a vetting process, we all had to go through it, and if you all get through that then you absolutely have the right to stand.”
Whittle said it will be “a very interest contest” with 11 candidates, including himself, vying for the leadership.
The full list of Ukip leadership hopefuls are:
Anne Marie Waters
Whittle also said that Ukip was still needed going forward as a party “ensuring Brexit” occurs.
The leadership contest has arisen after Paul Nuttall announced his resignation in the wake of the party’s poor performance in the June General Election, when Ukip failed to win a single seat and its vote share dropped.
Former leader Nigel Farage announced last month that he had decided not to stand again in the upcoming election, though he did not rule out a return to “the front line” if politicians did not deliver a “full and proper” Brexit.
Ballot papers for the leadership contest will go out on 1 September, and the new leader will then be announced at Ukip’s conference in Torquay, which takes place on 29 and 30 September.