From homophobia to anti-immigrant rants; we take a look at the shadow UKIP has cast over the Brexit Party in Rotherham.
Nigel Farage has strenuously tried to distance the Brexit Party from UKIP, his former vehicle, which was long plagued by racism, sexism and homophobia scandals, and had developed into a fully-fledged far-right party by the time he abandoned ship last December.
Whilst UKIP has now spiralled into obscurity, standing a dismal 44 candidates nationally, the Brexit Party has increasingly come to resemble the UKIP of old as the campaign has progressed. Take, for example, the near-daily exposure of bigotry from its candidates, and its adoption of the former UKIP policy of a 50,000-a-year immigration cap. Just yesterday Farage told The Guardian that he intended to focussing more on immigration for the remainder of the campaign, the issue on which UKIP centred its 2015 General Election campaign. This is partly because large chunks of UKIP’s personnel – activists, candidates, organisers and advisors – have simply been carried over into Farage’s new party.
Few places is this more true than in Rotherham. Brexit Party candidates Paul Hague (Rotherham) and Alan Cowles (Rother Valley) were among a cohort of 12 UKIP councillors who defected to the Brexit Party in July, despite having stuck with UKIP throughout the entirety of the period led by veteran anti-Muslim activist Gerard Batten, which Farage condemned as “obsessed with Islam” and in danger of becoming the “new BNP”. The Brexit Party candidates in the neighbouring constituencies of Penistone and Stocksbridge and Sheffield South East are also both ex-UKIP, have scandals of their own.
Cowles and the Councillors
Alan Cowles, who leads the Brexit Party councillors, was recently described by Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice as “clearly committed to the values of the Brexit Party”. Cowles is perhaps best known for a 2015 interview with Sky News, in which he admitted that he did not know how much immigration there was into the area despite his lengthy complaints on the topic, for example claiming that “old people in this town are intimidated and afraid to come into the town centre, because of immigrants”.
Cowles also came to the defence of Brian Cutts, also now a Rotherham Brexit Party councillor, who was removed from the South Yorkshire Police and Crime panel in 2018 after he was recorded asking “Why are we allowing lesbians and gay men to foster children?”, stating that he “knew right from wrong” and “knew which side of the road to drive on and which way to go – straight”. The Rotherham Advertiser reports that he later repeated his views at a “bizarre” meeting at Rotherham Town Hall, stating “I can’t see how anybody can father a child to two men.”
Cowles claimed that Cutts’ comments were not improper, vowing in July to write to the Home Secretary after Labour councillors refused to reinstate Cutts to the panel. Council leader Chris Read claimed that he had “approached members of the LGBT community about Cllr Cutts. Out of the 350 we asked, they all said he was the wrong person to do this job”.
More recently Cllr. Nigel Simpson, who also joined the Brexit Party from UKIP in July, was exposed by The Times in August as having warned that failure to implement a “complete Brexit” would lead to “an experimental merge of [the] EU and [for example] the continent of Africa” and “tribal leaders may take over”. He appears to have been quietly ejected from the Brexit Party, and is now listed on the Rotherham Council website as “non-aligned”.
Rotherham Brexit Party councillor Sandra Marriott has also reposted inflammatory content on social media. Whilst a UKIP councillor Marriott shared a post which dramatically exaggerates the ways in which illegal immigrants are treated in this country, which is then compared to draconian penalties in other countries, such as hard labour and execution.
Another prominent Brexit Party figure in the region is Jane Collins, UKIP’s former candidate in Rotherham and a former member of the European Parliament, where she held the dubious achievement of being the 689th most active MEP in the rankings. Collins became the Brexit Party organiser for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire after quitting UKIP in April.
Collins is best known for almost bankrupting UKIP after she lost a libel case against three Labour MPs, having claimed at UKIP’s 2014 conference that the MPs were aware of many of the details of child grooming in Rotherham but had not intervened to stop it. Ironically, in 2016 she appealed to the EU, claiming that she has “immunity” from the legal action due to her position as an MEP. Collins incurred hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages, and UKIP miraculously avoided bankruptcy after the party was ordered to pay a large chunk of the costs in 2018. Collins was also threatened with a lawsuit after she falsely suggested that the head of a Christian charity was a paedophile.
More worryingly, Collins is also prone to extreme and offensive statements, for example claiming in 2014 that “indigenous” children in contact with the Roma Slovak community should receive vaccines. She has also retweeted (and since deleted) a post by American anti-Muslim extremist Pamela Geller, who is barred from entering the UK.
The Brexit Party is bringing the dangerous and divisive politics to communities across the UK.