The UK Independence Party’s leadership contest took another unsavoury turn when frontrunner Paul Nuttall and fellow contender Suzanne Evans refused to participate in a television debate with “outsider” John Rees-Evans.
Mr Rees-Evans, whose campaign – which is centred on giving the party’s members more control – gained considerable traction and support amongst the members with a passionate speech at the second of four hustings earlier this month, is due to appear on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme this morning. It’s understood that the corporation asked Mr Nuttall and Ms Evans to participate, but both refused. Mr Nuttall is the self-proclaimed “unity candidate”, whilst Ms Evans described herself and Mr Nuttall as “team sensible” when both announced their candidacy last month. Mr Rees-Evans walked out of the hustings event in Wales, and did not participate in the following two, citing the party hierarchy’s wish for a “coronation”, and revealed that he had been rebuked by a party official for disagreeing with one of Ms Evans’s policy during a radio debate earlier in the contest. Since then, he has undertaken a nationwide tour, meeting UKIP members and winning the support of many. Whilst some still consider him as the outsider candidate, Mr Rees-Evans’s popularity and profile has risen considerably.
— John Rees-Evans (@JohnReesEvans) November 16, 2016
Speaking to New Media Central UK about Mr Nuttall and Ms Evans’s refusal, Mr Rees-Evans said: “Quite frankly, it’s impossible for them to win the debate. My proposition is the most honest expression of democracy that’s possible. It would be impossible for them to convince a lot of UKIP members that their position is justifiable.”
Party members and politicians that side with outgoing leader Nigel Farage have suggested that there is an establishment within the party. Does Mr Rees-Evans agree? “Yes I think there is, especially with their tactics that they have insisted on. Their idea is to carry on as things are.”
In a Facebook livestream, former candidate and Breitbart London editor-in-chief Raheem Kassam endorsed Mr Rees-Evans’s candidacy, stating: “It’s JRE for me.” Was Mr Rees-Evans pleased to receive Mr Kassam’s backing? “Yes definitely. He’s always been a fearless proponent of liberty of conscience and free speech. It’s a priority for UKIP to continue to perpetuate this, instead of how things are at the moment.”
The leader will be announced on the 28th in London.
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