UK Politics

Harriet Yeo, former Labour NEC chairwoman, backs UKIP

Harriet Yeo Image copyright BBC news grab

A former chairwoman of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee says she has left the party to support UKIP at the general election.

Harriet Yeo, a councillor in Kent, said she had become "disillusioned" with Labour's stance on Europe.

She said she only trusted UKIP to offer a choice on the UK's membership of the EU. But she will not join the party.

Labour said it was united on Europe and that an EU exit would "cost British jobs and influence".

Ms Yeo claimed the majority of Labour's shadow cabinet wanted a referendum on the EU, but "are being told to keep quiet", adding: "I cannot support this approach."

"It is time to decide whether we remain in the EU. The only party I trust to offer us that choice is UKIP," she writes on the Telegraph website.

'Not a swipe'

A Labour source said Ms Yeo had been removed as group leader on Ashford Borough Council last week after being accused of non-attendance at meetings and a failure to undertake casework, and had just been deselected as a local election candidate.

Asked about this, Ms Yeo told the BBC she had struggled to make some council meetings because of working full-time, while others were at "more awkward times".

She also said she had found campaigning difficult due to recent operations that left her struggling to walk long distances.

"There have been a couple of slip-ups but I have just had another operation", she said, adding: "I have been talking to UKIP way before this."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Ms Yeo believes a debate over Britain's future in Europe will be "healthy for democracy"

Ms Yeo, who chaired the NEC in 2012-13 and is a former president of the TSSA transport union, was Labour's candidate to be police and crime commissioner in Kent in 2012.

She will now sit as an independent councillor.

Ms Yeo said she would not become a UKIP member because she wanted to judge things from a voter's perspective.

She made clear that her decision was not a "swipe" at Labour leader Ed Miliband, whom she described as a "principled leader".

But she said she did not share his view that a referendum "is not the right step for our country".

A referendum, she said, would pave the way for an "exciting and meaningful debate" about Britain's future.

Party 'united'

On Twitter, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said he was "delighted" to have Ms Yeo's support, and a party spokesman said she would be "very publicly and loudly" supporting the party.

Ms Yeo said she had not been asked to campaign for UKIP, and had not decided what to do, saying it would be "very difficult" for her to knock on doors due to her recent operations.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Farage's party wants Britain to leave the European Union

A Labour spokesman said the "vast majority" of the party were united behind its position on Europe.

He added: "The truth is UKIP are a party of Tory people, Tory policies and Tory money - they are more Tory than the Tories."

Labour has resisted calling for an in/out referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, arguing that an EU exit would be disastrous and cause uncertainty for business.

David Cameron has pledged to hold such a vote in 2017, following a period of EU renegotiation, if the Conservatives win a majority at May's general election.

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