Ukip’s ruling body has allowed a candidate who claims Islam is “evil” to stand for the party’s leadership.
The party’s national executive unanimously approved Anne Marie Waters’ bid to stand against 10 other candidates in a ballot of members next month.
She was blocked from standing for the party in the last general election, with then-leader Paul Nuttall saying he was “a bit uncomfortable” with some of her views.
Ms Waters is a director of pressure group Sharia Watch UK, which campaigns against Sharia law, and has said she believes Islam is “evil” and “an expansionist, political, totalitarian and supremacist faith, commanded to world domination”.
She co-founded the anti-Islam organisation Pegida UK together with former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson and Paul Weston, leader of the nationalist Liberty GB party.
Some had predicted the party’s ruling body would block her from standing, but party insiders have suggested it was thought better to let her stand and lose – as they expect her to do to favourite Peter Whittle – than to be seen to block her candidacy.
Ukip has been plagued by internal feuding over the past few years, and some observers predict a major rift over the future direction of the party in the event that Ms Waters wins.
Several senior members of the party have said they will resign if she becomes the leader because they believe this would finish Ukip as a mainstream political force and condemn it to the sidelines with fringe parties.
Ms Waters has attracted criticism for her praise of far-right or nationalist politicians, including Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands.
Jack Buckby, a former member of the British National Party, is reported to be helping Ms Waters with her campaign.
A former Labour activist, she announced her intention to stand after Mr Nuttall stepped down following Ukip’s disastrous performance at the general election in June.
Ms Waters intended to launch her campaign in Rotherham but members of the local Ukip branch expressed concerns this was political opportunism, given the high-profile cases of child grooming by gangs of mainly Muslim men in the town.
Rotherham football club cancelled the rally she planned to hold in its stadium and the local party chair issued a statement saying: “Ukip councillors wish to make it clear that they do not condone in any way the views Ms Waters has previously expressed, or what she stands…