Nigel Farage has said allegations that led to the suspension of one of Ukip’s MEPs “couldn’t look worse” as he reacted angrily to the latest scandal to hit the party.
The party removed the whip from Janice Atkinson, who represents the South East in the European Parliament, and axed her as a general election candidate following “allegations of a serious financial nature”.
Speaking this morning, Mr Farage said she would face a disciplinary “early next week” and said there would have to be she would have to give an “extraordinary reason” to explain what happened.
The party would not give further details over her suspension but reports in The Sun claimed a member of her staff had obtained an invoice for a sum more than three times the actual cost of an event, apparently with the intention of claiming it back from Brussels funds.
The newspaper published a secret film of Christine Hewitt, Ms Atkinson’s chief of staff, speaking to the manager of the Hoy restaurant in Margate, Kent, before Ukip’s spring conference last month.
In the recording, Ms Hewitt is heard to say: “The idea is we overcharge them slightly, because that's the way we repatriate it.”
A member of the hotel staff replies: “3,150, is that all right? Yeah, if you're all right with that? Is that enough for you?”
Ms Hewitt then says: “Oh God yeah, that's more than enough.”
Mr Farage could barely disguise his anger as he responded this morning. He told BBC Radio Kent he had spoken to Ms Atkinson around midnight but said it was a “pretty short conversation”.
“It looks bad, it looks very bad, it couldn't look worse,” he added. “I'm astounded by it frankly.
"What we need very quickly is to have a disciplinary hearing to establish what the relationship was over this matter between a member of staff and between Janice Atkinson.
“All I can say is that there is going to have to be an extraordinary reason to explain why this happened.”
He said it was too early to say who would be put up in place of Ms Atkinson as Ukip's candidate in the Folkestone and Hythe seat, where the Conservative MP Damian Collins is defending a 10,122 majority.
The invoice under suspicion, obtained by one of Ms Atkinson's staff, was for £3,150 and related to the Women’s Lunch for Ukip Spring Conference Event attended by MP Mark Reckless and Mr Farage's wife, Kirsten, in February.
Asked about Ms Atkinson’s reaction to the claims, an insider said she appeared “very, very surprised” that she was being criticised.
“She doesn't see what she’s done wrong. I think she’s genuinely dense enough not to realise this is not the way things happen,” he said.
An official spokesperson for Ukip said the party was “incredibly disappointed with Ms Atkinson, who appears to have exercised extremely poor judgment in acting in a way that the party has never and would never condone”.
“The party has acted swiftly and immediately and, just as we showed when we suspended another MEP for financial irregularities, we always maintain a zero-tolerance attitude towards acts of this nature,” he added.
It gave no further details of the alleged behaviour that prompted the disciplinary action.
In his column for The Independent, Mr Farage said he was attempting to “restore some faith and dignity to British politics” in the wake of Ms Atkinson's suspension.
“I want Ukip to be the party that restores decency into our political sphere, and as such, I will do my level best to uphold those principles across the entire party,” he wrote.
Ms Atkinson has not yet responded to The Independent's requests for comment.
She became embroiled in controversy last year after calling a Thai constituent a “ting tong” in comments recorded by the BBC.
“I deeply regret the words I used and am incredibly sorry,“ she said afterwards. ”It was poor judgment and naivety on my part rather than words spoken with any malice.“
Months before that incident, she was caught on camera swearing at a group of activists in Kent by holding her middle finger up.
Last month, Ms Atkinson said she would scrap the role of Equalities Minister dedicated to policies regarding women, ethnic minority and LGBT issues.
She joined Ukip in 2011 and rose up the party to become an MEP last year. She is the author of Ukip’s welfare policies.
On her website, Ms Atkinson describes herself as ”happily divorced“ and remarried with children.
She said she joined Ukip to ”stand up for things that we believe in“ and because she ”wants (her) country back“.