The Ukip leader, Paul Nuttall, has given his strongest hint yet that he may not stand in the June election, as the party launched an Islam-focused policy blitz which also suggested mandatory medical checks for girls at risk of female genital mutilation.
Nuttall, who lost a recent high-profile byelection in Stoke Central, repeatedly dodged questions on his election intentions and barricaded himself into a hotel room, after a controversial press conference where Ukip launched 10 policies that put an anti-Islam agenda front and centre of its forthcoming campaign.
Emerging from the room, Nuttall said his candidacy was a matter for the party’s national executive committee, but made it clear he was not pinning his party’s ambitions on regaining a seat in Westminster. “Ukip leaders have done quite well not being in parliament haven’t they?” he told reporters who chased him into a waiting cab.
Under Ukip’s latest proposal, girls deemed at risk of FGM would be subjected to intimate medical examinations in schools every year after trips overseas.
Nuttall said the party was “10 years ahead of our time” on the issues, likening its approach to the party’s pursuit of Brexit, and said the three major parties would be “where we are today at some point in the 2020s”.
The party’s new policy proposals, dubbed “the integration agenda”, include passing a law against the wearing in public places of face coverings, which the party said were a “deliberate barrier to integration and in many contexts a security risk too”.
Ukip’s deputy leader, Peter Whittle, confirmed the ban was focused on the burqa, calling it “ridiculous” when one reporter suggested it could apply to beekeepers.
The party said it would explicitly ban sharia law and establish a legal commission to examine the dismantling of sharia courts. Where the victims of grooming gangs are different race or religion to the offenders, that should be an aggravating factor in prosecution, the party proposes.
The party also said it intended a moratorium on new Islamic faith schools until “substantial progress has been demonstrated in integrating Muslims into mainstream British society”.
Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green party, called the proposals “full-throttled Islamophobia” and said it was a sign of desperation from the party. “Now that the referendum has passed, Nuttall’s party is desperately scrabbling around for relevance and seem to have settled upon attacks on Muslims and fringe far-right politics as their new home,” she said.
Nuttall said it was a “message of positivity, it will not be about negativity” from the party. “What we will say today is not designed to sow the seeds of division. It is about promoting integration in British society,” he added.
Video: UKIP leader Paul Nuttall refuses to say where he will stand and @christopherhope tries to hop in his taxi: pic.twitter.com/cZZESqdlxS
April 24, 2017 Vincent McAviney