UKIP has decided to support ‘staunch Brexiteer’ Tory Henry Smith and will not be fielding a general election candidate in Crawley next month.
Mr Smith, who was first elected as the town’s MP in 2010, was a vocal supporter of the successful Leave campaign in the run up to last year’s referendum where the country voted to leave the European Union.
The town is seen as a Tory-Labour marginal although the gap between the two parties widened to more than 6,000 votes back in 2015.
In a letter to party members Allan Griffiths, chair of the UKIP Crawley Branch, said they wanted to see Mr Smith, a ‘staunch Brexiteer’, returned to Westminster ‘and so are anxious not to split the vote’.
At the 2015 general election in Crawley the UKIP candidate Christopher Brown finished third with 6,979 votes.
Mr Griffiths explained how the ‘sensible and mature course of action’ showed how they are putting the country ahead of party politics.
He added: “It is vitally important that the Government is given a strong mandate to negotiate with the EU in order to win the best possible outcome for Britain without being hobbled by whinging Lib Dems and socialists.”
Speaking to the Crawley Observer, he explained how the decision had been made locally but afterwards they had been advised by UKIP HQ ‘while they would not encourage us to stand against sitting Brexit MPs each branch was free to make its own decision’.
Mr Griffiths described how general elections were never about a single issue, which made this one ‘unusual’, and promised that it would be ‘back to normal’ from June 9, when ‘normal civilised hostilities will resume’.
The party stood candidates in all Crawley county council divisions for the first time, and Mr Griffiths argued that contrary to media reports that UKIP is ‘no longer relevant’ they were the ‘little party with a big voice’.
Despite the UK boasting the world’s fifth largest economy, he called it a ‘disgrace’ people were having to use foodbanks, and pointed out how the NHS was in ‘crisis’, while also raising low public confidence in the police service, immigration, an increase in poverty, a shortage of housing, and rising homelessness.
In response Mr Smith said: “A clear majority - 58 per cent of Crawley electors - voted to leave the EU in last June’s referendum. Helping restore a global Britain with full democratic control at home once again has been a long held ambition for me and many others in our town.
“However, we need to secure the result, which some still don’t respect, for a strong and stable future. In that on-going effort which I’m proud to be part of, I welcome the support of all patriots in this election and beyond.
“I support Theresa May in securing the best deal for Britain - the alternative is a coalition of chaos led by Jeremy Corbyn and propped up by Nicola Sturgeon.”
Meanwhile Marko Scepanovic, the Lib Dems’ general election candidate for Crawley, said: “Conservative voters need to think carefully before placing their vote.
“A vote for the Tories is now a vote UKIP, who may as well take the rest of the election off because the Tories are fighting their campaign to rip Britain out of the Single Market and to end the right to remain for EU citizens.”
He added: “There is a clear choice at this election to keep Britain open, tolerant and united – and that is to vote Liberal Democrat.”
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