Ukip’s interim leader, who once called Islam a “death cult” and proposed that Muslims sign a special code of conduct rejecting violence, has been described as a “disaster” for the party’s political future.
Gerard Batten has taken over from ousted Henry Bolton, who lost his position after nearly two thirds of members backed his sacking at an Extraordinary General Meeting on Saturday.
Batten will be interim leader while a new leadership election is organised in the next 90 days.
But there are already concerns surrounding his appointment, with anti-racism campaign group Hope not Hate accusing Ukip members of “sounding the death knell for their party”.
So who is Ukip’s interim leader and why is he so contentious?
Here’s everything you need to know:
Who is Gerard Batten?
The 63-year-old party veteran is a founder of Ukip and is a serving Member of the European Parliament (MEP).
He was first elected as an MEP in 2004 and was selected to stand as the party’s candidate in the 2008 London mayoral election.
He was unsuccessful, receiving just 1.2% of the vote.
What are his views on Islam?
In the wake of the Westminster terror attack, Batten posted a blog in which he called Islam a “death cult”.
“The terrorist attack in Westminster was just the latest in a long line of atrocities committed internationally in the name of Islam,” he wrote.
He then listed the following suggestions:
First of all, let’s stop calling it Islam (submission to the will of Allah) and accepting it on its own terms. We should return to calling what the West used to call it: Mohammedanism - the cult of Mohammed - because that is what it is. It is a death cult, born and steeped in fourteen hundred years of violence and bloodshed, that propagates itself by intimidation, violence and conquest.
Batten added in his blog: “A normal non Mohammedan should have a perfectly rational fear of ‘Islam’.”
Batten has also suggested that Muslims sign a special code of conduct rejecting violence and warned that it was a big mistake for Europe to allow “an explosion of mosques across their land”.
A document he commissioned in 2006 called ‘A Proposed Charter of Muslim Understanding’, says that parts of the Qur’an promote “violent physical Jihad”.
The MEP argued that some Muslim texts also required updating, particularly those bits he claimed say “kill Jews wherever you find them”. He said: “If they say they cannot revise their thinking on those issues, then who’s got the problem – us or them?”
Speaking in 2010, Batten pledged to end the building of new mosques in the UK, until and unless a non-Muslim place of worship was built in Mecca.
Batten also once described far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders as “a brave man trying to defend western civilisation”.
Batten denies that he has ever made comments about Muslims, but anti-racism group Hope not Hate said that his appointment today “sounded the death knell for their party”.
Nick Lowles, chief executive of Hope not Hate, said: “Gerard Batten is... known for his extreme anti-Muslim views and closeness to various figures in anti-Muslim networks across Europe.
“This is a man who calls Islam ‘Mohammedanism’ and ‘a death cult’, for heaven’s sake. His vote is a disaster for any hope UKIP might have of resurrecting its political fortunes.
“The party is now a bad joke, haemorrhaging support and money. However, the bigger threat lies in Nigel Farage and his Leave.EU backer Arron Banks who are eagerly waiting in the wings.
“Farage and Banks are far more capable figures than anything Ukip is likely to offer and likely to hit home hard on anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim messages when they re-enter the political fray, most likely at the helm of a new radical-right political movement.”
Quick Verdict on Ukip: Appointment of Batten as interim leader a risky move. One of the founders of the party so knows it inside out, but previous anti-Islam comments will be a turn off for many.
February 17, 2018
Ukip ran on a pretty strong anti-Islamic fundamentalism ticket in the last election - in the wake of terrible terrorist attacks - and got nowhere. I don't see the appetite for that kind of politics in this country. Don't think there's a huge base for it.
February 17, 2018
But when asked on Saturday whether he intends to take Ukip in the direction of being more anti-Islam, Batten said: “I’ve never made comments about Muslims, I’ve always talked about ideology and the literalist interpretation of that ideology.
“That is a big problem that is facing not just the UK but Europe and the Western world. I will be looking at policies of how we can address that.
“It’s all very well to talk about integration but one of the practical things we should do – our Government should do – straight away, is to stop the foreign funding of mosques and imans by places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan who have exported extremist ideology to our country and other countries.”
What has Batten said about Ireland and Brexit?
Batten was widely criticised last year after he accused Ireland of acting like “the weakest kid in the playground sucking up to the EU bullies” in Brexit talks with the UK over the ongoing border row.
The Ukipper, who also believes the European Union was conceived by Nazi Germany and suggests the Bilderberg Group is a “shadow world government”, insisted on Twitter that the country “relies on the UK for its existence”.
At the time Ukip distanced itself from the comments, with the party’s head of delegation, MEP Ray Finch, telling HuffPost UK in a statement: “Mr Batten’s late night tweets do not reflect UKIP policy or sentiment.
“We wish to maintain free trade and free movement between the North and South of Ireland, full stop.
“The best way to avoid the European Commission imposing a hard border is to create an equal partnership of independent states outside EU.”
Will Batten stand in the Ukip leadership contest?
Ukip faces its fourth leadership election since the EU referendum in June 2016.
Batten said he has not decided whether or not to stand for the leadership, telling a press conference on Saturday: “I honestly don’t know the answer to that.
“I’ll wait and see how it goes or otherwise over the next few weeks.”