The UK Independence Party has expelled one of its MEPs, Janice Atkinson, along with her Chief of Staff Christine Hewitt, for bringing the party in to disrepute. Ms Hewitt was caught on camera asking a restaurant manager for a falsely inflated invoice for an expenses claim.
The decision to eject Ms Atkinson from the party was made by a disciplinary panel. A spokesman for UKIP said: “Janice Atkinson MEP and Christine Hewitt (assistant to Janice Atkinson) have been found to have brought the party into disrepute. As a result they have been expelled from UK Independence Party. They have 14 days to appeal.
“Ms Atkinson no longer represents the UKIP in the European Parliament and she will no longer be a prospective parliamentary candidate for Folkestone and Hythe,” he confirmed.
In a statement, Ms Atkinson said “I am deeply disappointed by today’s decision and fully intend to appeal. I was elected to represent the constituents of the south-east of England and I will continue to work tirelessly on their behalf and for the best interests of our country.”
Although Ms Atkinson is no longer a member of UKIP she will remain an MEP until the next elections, due to take place in 2019. She joined UKIP in 2011, defecting from the Conservative Party, and was elected to the European Parliament on the UKIP ticket last year. She now enjoys a salary of £80,000 a year plus generous expenses.
Last week footage emerged of Christine Hewitt returning to The Hoy, a restaurant in Margate, Kent, to ask for a false invoice to be made out at more than three times the actual cost of the bill.
In the video Ms Hewitt is seen telling the manager “The idea is we overcharge them slightly, because that’s the way we repatriate it.” After some discussion, he replies: “£3,150, is that alright? Yeah, if you’re all right with that? Is that enough for you?”
Commenting on the evidence, Mr Farage told the Telegraph “I am astonished, totally astonished. If what she has been suspended for is right I am astonished she could have done something quite so stupid. I am very very shocked and surprised.”
Over the weekend he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr “I have been utterly ruthless as UKIP leader with people who’ve stepped over the line, whether it’s with financial mismanagement or whether it’s saying things that frankly have erred towards racism. I have been ruthless at getting rid of people.”
He added that “without a shadow of a doubt” Ms Atkinson should step down as candidate in the upcoming general election. Her dismissal leaves UKIP looking for a new candidate for the potentially winnable seat of Folkestone and Hythe just five weeks before polling day.
Opinion polling in the seat has shown UKIP making inroads into the Conservative’s support in the constituency, rising from 4.6 percent at the 2010 general election to 28 percent in November 2013, to 32.9 percent in September 2014, just 3.5 percent behind the Conservatives. Labour support, meanwhile, has slipped back from a high of 21 percent in 2013 to just 17 percent last September.