A Ukip MEP whose constituency includes the Portsmouth area has been suspended and removed as a general election candidate over “allegations of a serious financial nature” surrounding EU expenses.
Janice Atkinson was due to challenge the Conservatives in Folkestone and Hythe on May 7, but has now been stripped of the party whip while the party investigates the claims.
The party is 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 condoneUkip statement
It acted as The Sun reported that a staff member 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.
Party leader Nigel Farage said he was “shocked and surprised”.
The newspaper said the individual told the manager of the restaurant which hosted the event - and who had alerted the newspaper to the meeting to discuss the cost - that: “The idea is we overcharge them slightly because that’s the way of repatriating (the money).”
The £950 food and drink cost of the event, held ahead of the party’s recent spring conference in Margate, was paid by credit card, according to the report, which included video footage of the discussions over the bill.
But it is alleged that the staff member negotiated for and accepted an invoice for £3,150, made out to the newly-formed grouping of right-wing parties Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE) of which Ukip is the biggest member and its associated foundation The Initiative for Direct Democracy in Europe (IDDE).
The newspaper said it had handed the footage to Kent Police and the European Parliament.
In a statement announcing the suspension, a Ukip spokesman said: “The party is 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.
“We always maintain a zero tolerance attitude towards acts of this nature.”
Ms Atkinson, an MEP for the south-east of England, found herself in hot water last year after she was caught by TV cameras calling a Thai woman a “ting tong” - forcing party leader Nigel Farage into making a personal apology.
She insisted the comments were naive rather than malicious and said she was “incredibly sorry” for offending the couple.
The latest disciplinary issue for the anti-EU party came hours after Farage renewed warnings that he expected a “very dirty, nasty” general election campaign and urged his party to “turn the other cheek”.
Mr Farage, asked about the allegations after an event in Kent, told The Telegraph: “If what she has been suspended for is right I am astonished she could have done something quite so stupid. I am very, very shocked and surprised.
“It looks like a claim that wasn’t made, I am pleased to say, but a claim that was intended to be made that may not have been as genuine as perhaps it should have been.
“It would appear there was the intention to produce a receipt that may not have been genuine.”
He told KentOnline: “We treat these things very seriously so we have acted quickly - some may say harshly - so we will have to wait and see,”
“It’s as much about how you deal with it and we have shown we deal with this kind of thing very quickly.”
A European Parliament spokesman told The Sun: “The European Parliament has an obligation to refer any evidence which gives rise to the presumption of the existence of possible cases of fraud, corruption or any other illegal activity detrimental to the interests of the Communities to the EU anti-fraud office of OLAF.”
The party was quick to stress that the decision meant Ms Atkinson was no longer its general election candidate in the seat - where Tory Damian Collins is defending a healthy majority of 10,122.
Mr Farage was reported to have told the Telegraph that a reinstatement remained possible but unlikely.
Mr Farage said this morning Ms Atkinson will face a disciplinary hearing, adding that there would have to be an “extraordinary reason” to explain what happened.
He told BBC Radio Kent: “It looks bad, it looks very bad, it couldn’t look worse. 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.”
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.
And he added: “All I can say is that there is going to have to be an extraordinary reason to explain why this happened.”
Mr Farage said he spoke to Ms Atkinson around midnight but it was a “pretty short conversation”. He went on: “I was frankly confused by it all.
“It’s not fair to judge on that.”
A spokeswoman for Kent Police said they were not aware of receiving any reports or allegations relating to the matter.