Wales politics

UKIP AM Caroline Jones quits party over 'far-right move'

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Media captionCaroline Jones says she only joined UKIP because she wanted to leave the EU

A former leader of the UKIP group in the Welsh Assembly has resigned from the party.

Caroline Jones claimed UKIP leader Gerard Batten was alienating his members by moving the party to the far right.

The AM for South Wales West, who will now sit as an independent, said UKIP was taking "a direction that I'm not comfortable with".

But Mr Batten said her statement was "politically correct twaddle".

Mrs Jones outsted Neil Hamilton as leader of UKIP in the assembly in May and served until she lost a leadership election to Gareth Bennett in August.

Her resignation means the UKIP group has four AMs left from the seven elected to the Senedd in 2016.

Mrs Jones said she does not "feel welcome in the assembly group" and has not been "treated equally or as favourably" as Mr Bennett or Neil Hamilton, the first UKIP group leader.

She alleged a leadership election was called to get her out of the job, and questioned whether the way it was held adhered to the party's constitution.

Image caption Gerard Batten has taken the party in "a direction I'm not comfortable with", Caroline Jones said

Mrs Jones told BBC Wales Mr Batten - who has been highly critical of Islam - was changing the party "to a more far-right position, which a lot of the long-standing members are finding quite unfavourable, including myself".

"I never joined the party to be part of a far-right organisation - I joined the party because I wanted to come out of the European Union," she said.

"Gerard Batten should listen to all sides and try to mediate and bring people together, as opposed to alienating them.

"He's brought a lot of views into UKIP which people, the more moderate members, of the party have asked him to tone down."

'Shambolic election'

Mrs Jones said the leadership election was "shambolic from beginning to end", citing rule changes which meant more people were able to vote than expected.

She alleged she had been subject of "misogyny", claiming examples of a meeting where she was allegedly told to "shut up", one where she had a pair of glasses thrown at her, and another where she was told to stop taking minutes.

Mrs Jones said: "I never liked the way that certain members in the assembly conducted themselves in their attitude towards female members."

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Media captionGareth Bennett said it would be easier for the UKIP group to operate without Caroline Jones

Mr Batten was appointed leader earlier this year, after former UKIP leader Henry Bolton was sacked.

The MEP said: "I have brought the party back from financial meltdown, raised funds, raised membership numbers, and raised UKIP in the polls. Ms Jones has contributed nothing that I am aware of."

He added: "Her statement is politically correct twaddle to disguise the fact that Mrs Jones is politically ineffective. I wish her well languishing in the outer realms of irrelevance."

UKIP assembly group leader Gareth Bennett said he was "not totally surprised" by Mrs Jones's exit and suggested people in the party who do not agree with its direction should "get off the train and then make it easier for the group to operate".

He said UKIP was not moving to the far right but said not everyone in the party agreed with Mr Batten's direction.

Mr Bennett denied the misogyny accusations - he confirmed that Caroline Jones had been told to "shut up" at a group meeting but said it was not related to her gender.

"There was poor behaviour from probably two or three people in that room at that meeting," he said.

"I'm supremely confident that the group will eventually cohere."

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Image caption Neil Hamilton was ousted as UKIP assembly group leader by Caroline Jones in May

Neil Hamilton has called on Mrs Jones to resign her regional list seat and allow another UKIP member to become an AM, but she told BBC Radio Wales that she would not stand down.

Under the regional list system used to elect 20 of the 60 assembly members, voters choose a party rather than a specific candidate.

When a regional AM resigns, they are usually succeeded by the person who was next on the list for their party at the previous assembly election in that region.

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