UK Politics

UKIP youth chairman sacked after comments on Europe and gay marriage

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Image caption UKIP has performed well in recent Westminster by-elections

The UK Independence Party has sacked the chairman of its youth organisation after he told the BBC that European elections were a "sort of sideshow".

Olly Neville said that if the party wanted to make a real difference "it is in Westminster politics".

He also said he backed the legalisation of gay marriage, which UKIP opposes.

UKIP said Mr Neville was "at odds" with the party on a number of policies and was "not adhering to the requirements" of being an official party spokesman.

UKIP, which campaigns for the UK to leave the European Union, has performed well in recent Westminster by-elections and polls have suggested it has enjoyed a surge in support.

One Conservative MP has suggested his party consider a pact with UKIP at the next election.

But UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said he would not work with David Cameron "in any circumstances" after critical comments he made about UKIP supporters, including remarks in 2006 when he labelled some UKIP activists as "fruitcakes and closet racists".

'Socially liberal'

Mr Neville, interim chair of Youth Independence - UKIP's youth wing - has been asked to stand down after comments he made in an interview with BBC Radio 4's The World at One last month.

In the interview, Mr Neville, who is 21, said: "The EU is a sort of a sideshow. But if we want to make a difference it is in Westminster politics."

UKIP does not have any MPs. In contrast, it has 12 MEPs in Brussels and has set itself the target of winning the largest share of the vote in UK elections to the European Parliament in 2014.

Mr Neville added that he was a "big supporter" of gay marriage and said he believed the government was right to seek to legalise it in England. "So I think there is definitely a more socially liberal side to Youth Independence, which I think is a good thing."

The BBC's political correspondent Chris Mason said Mr Neville announced on Twitter that he had been fired, publishing emails he claimed he had been sent by party chairman Steve Crowther.

'Breach of responsibility'

In a statement, Mr Crowther confirmed that Mr Neville had been asked to stand down, arguing that the party's governing body "felt that he did not fully appreciate the responsibilities attached to an official party role".

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Media captionBBC's Chris Mason: Mr Neville's views were some distance from official party policy

He added: "After a number of issues relating to the public presentation of policy on both broadcast and social media, we felt that Mr Neville was not adhering to the requirements of being an official spokesman for the party."

Mr Crowther denied Mr Neville - who the party said had not been elected but was doing the job on a "caretaker" basis - had been removed specifically because of his views on gay marriage.

"This is not the case. However, we did point out to him that stating policy views which are in contradiction to party policy, or misstating party policy, in public media was not only in breach of his responsibilities but also contrary to the YI's objectives.

"In relation to the party's policies on areas including gay marriage, the European elections, the legalisation of drugs and prostitution among others, Mr Neville has been publicly at odds with the party over the past few weeks."

Speaking about his opposition to gay marriage recently, Mr Farage told the Guardian that he believed religious faith played an important role in society and "the equality rights agenda has come to the point of head-on conflict" with it.

He also acknowledged some of his party members were "eccentrics" but said he preferred that to a "bland lot of ghastly people whose names I don't even know".

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