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Top Ukip backer Arron Banks to focus on new political movement

Ukip's biggest financial backer Arron Banks has announced he will now concentrate on a new political movement after claiming his membership of the party was suspended.

Insurance tycoon Mr Banks, who funded the Leave.EU campaign in last year's Brexit referendum, gave £1 million to Ukip ahead of the 2015 general election.

He has been involved in a public spat with the party's only MP Douglas Carswell and has been critical of the party's leader Paul Nuttall.

Mr Banks said his membership had lapsed and when he tried to reapply he was told he was suspended until an appearance before the party's ruling national executive committee (NEC).

But Ukip dismissed the idea he could have been suspended, as he was no longer a member of the party.

Mr Banks suggested on Twitter that the move was "apparently for saying current leadership couldn't knock the skin off a rice pudding" and he has also compared the way the party is run to a squash club.

His row with Mr Carswell, which included suggesting he could stand against the Clacton MP by using a recall petition to trigger a by-election, has also riled elements in the party.

Mr Banks said his membership had lapsed and when he tried to reapply he was told he was suspended until an appearance before the party's ruling national executive committee (NEC).

But Ukip said he chose not to renew his membership despite reminders to do so.

Mr Banks said: "Ukip has somehow managed to allow my membership to lapse this year despite having given considerably more than the annual membership fee over the past 12 months.

"On reapplying I was told my membership was suspended pending my appearance at an NEC meeting.

"Apparently, my comments about the party being run like a squash club committee and Mr Carswell have not gone down well.

"I now realise I was being unfair to squash clubs all over the UK and I apologise to them.

"We will now be concentrating on our new movement."

Mr Banks has hinted at setting up a new political movement, building on Leave.EU, to "drain the swamp" of Westminster politics.

He tweeted: "Ukip 2.0 , the force awakens."

A Ukip spokesman said: "We are aware that Mr Banks has suggested on Twitter this morning that he has had his party membership suspended.

"Mr Banks was notified last year that his membership was due for renewal at the start of October but chose not to renew, despite reminders. With this his membership expired on January 1 2017.

"It would not be possible to suspend Mr Banks from something of which he is not a member."

In a letter to Mr Banks, Mr Nuttall said the ruling executive was concerned about the damage his comments were doing to the party's reputation.

Responding to a critical open letter sent by Mr Banks in February, Mr Nuttall said the NEC had invited him to a meeting on March 27 - and his membership application would not be processed until after that.

He also warned that if Mr Banks continued to publicly criticise the party, that invitation would be withdrawn.

Mr Banks had used his letter to suggest he should be made party chairman to transform the way Ukip operates - but Mr Nuttall stressed that was not an option.

In his reply to Mr Banks - which Ukip sources stressed had been sent before the businessman tweeted about his membership status - Mr Nuttall said: "Any and all contributions to our work are welcome.

"However, I should make clear that, whilst I am open to working with you on improving and enhancing our party, the party chairmanship is not on offer.

"In addition, whilst the NEC are keen to discuss and examine your ideas, they are concerned about continuing negative and damaging publicity flowing from this matter.

"Mindful of their primary responsibility to safeguard the reputation of Ukip, they have asked me to tell you that should you choose to further criticise Ukip, its leadership or the elected representatives in either the media or on social media, they will withdraw their invitation."

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