Who is the Irish woman who could become the next Ukip leader?
Anne Marie Waters is co-founder of UK branch of anti-Islam Pegida movement
Irish-born candidate Anne Marie Waters may become the new leader of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), when the result of a party ballot is announced on Friday.
A controversial anti-Islam activist, she is considered the most extreme of the seven candidates and is a co-founder of the UK branch of the anti-Islam Pegida movement, who has close ties to the far right and has described the religion as “evil”.
English interviewers still notice a “Dublin lilt”, but British flags wave proudly in the background of her slickly produced campaign video, in which Ms Waters defines herself as “passionately, loyally, resolutely and proudly British”.
Her focus on issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM), Sharia councils and banning the burka have caused concerns in the party, as have her links to figures on the far right, such as Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the extreme right-wing group, English Defence League.
Quit the party
The bulk of Ukip’s MEPs have promised to quit the party if she takes over as its fourth leader within a year at the conference. It was reported on Sunday that former leader Nigel Farage would form a new Brexit-based party if Ms Waters took over.
The Mail on Sunday cited unnamed friends of Mr Farage as saying he felt there was an opportunity for a new party to appeal to more hardline Brexiters following Theresa May’s perceived softening on the issue. Mr Farage, who has predicted that Ukip would soon be extinct if Waters took over, plans to announce the party if she wins.
Seeking a new direction for the party after the Brexit vote, many of the seven candidates to replace the former leader Paul Nuttall are promising a more robust cultural approach, often based on a hardline attitude towards Islam.
During Party hustings last month Ms Waters rejected criticism of her as a “neo-fascist” during tense exchanges.
Ms Waters told the audience in London last month that it was a “relief to be here” after recent efforts to remove her from the ballot.
“When the people in power are trying to silence a person, my advice is that you need to listen to that person,” Ms Waters said .
“I don’t think I could ever work with anyone who’s ever called me a neo-fascist without knowing what a neo-fascist is,” Ms Waters said, referring to a recent article by Bill Etheridge, a Ukip member of the European Parliament who sat at the other end of the stage.
Mr Etheridge said that Ukip should focus on issues such as the economy rather than “looking up little girls’ dresses” to check for signs of FGM, as proposed by the party recently.
Ms Waters returned to Dublin last summer to speak at an event organised by the right-wing Identity Ireland party, telling supporters that “there’s still time for Ireland” to avoid what she perceived were problems caused by Muslim immigration.
Ukip had been a powerful political force in recent years in Britain, taking the largest share of the vote at the 2014 European Parliament elections and a respectable 13 per cent at the 2015 general election. But the party suffered electoral collapse in June’s poll, shedding 3.3 million of the nearly 4 million votes it won in 2015 – winning no seats.
The winner of the leadership contest will be decided by a ballot of party members and announced on September 29th.
- Additional reporting Guardian Service