Ukip policies not anti-Muslim at all, insists leader Paul Nuttall
He added that Ukip would do away with the “scatter-gun approach” and “target sensibly” the seats it wants to win.
Paul Nuttall has hit back at suggestions his party is haemorrhaging voters to the Tories ahead of the June snap election, saying “where Ukip is strong it will stay strong”.
On a visit to the Black Country he also denied his party’s policies to ban the burka and force girls to have female genital mutilation (FGM) medical checks were anti-Muslim, describing them as “pro-integration”.
In an apparent criticism of the party’s previous general election campaign strategies, Mr Nuttall added that Ukip would do away with the “scatter-gun approach” and “target sensibly” the seats it wants to win.
Mr Nuttall was in Dudley, where a clear majority of voters backed Brexit in the EU referendum, meeting voters alongside one of Ukip’s West Midlands MEPs Bill Etheridge.
Asked about the party’s chances of winning any constituency, he said: “I think we’re in with a good chance.
“We’re going to target sensibly in terms of resources and manpower.
“We’re not going to have a scatter-gun approach like we’ve had in the past and I think if we do drill down in local constituencies, I think we can get someone over the line.”
The party has faced criticism – including from some of its own members – after Mr Nuttall announced mandatory medical checks for FGM last week.
But he denied claims it was “anti-Muslim” as he shook hands with people in the town’s market square.
Mr Nuttall said: “I think that is grossly unfair – I don’t think they’re anti-Muslim at all.
“I think they are pro-integration, we want to bring people together, we don’t want to divide society. This is all about having a cohesive society, where everyone signs up to the rule of law, everyone signs up to British values.”
However, Mr Etheridge said there was room for some “nuancing” of the party’s controversial FGM policy.
He said: “I’m not a huge fan of any enforced checks by the state for any circumstance. I think the original idea and the original policy has been nuanced and I think we’ll see a better approach.”
Mr Etheridge, who is the party’s pick to contest the key Labour marginal of Dudley North, said he “wholeheartedly” supported Mr Nuttall and the pair have had a “good, friendly exchange of views”.
He added: “I look forward to seeing the rest of the manifesto, I think it’s going to be a good and exciting one.”
The leader of Ukip, who has announced he will contest the Boston and Skegness General Election seat, also knocked back suggestions the Conservatives were attracting voters away from the party’s core support.
He said: “I think there’s been a slight move towards the Conservatives, particularly in the first week of the campaign, but I think what you’ll see over the next five weeks is it come back to us.”
Mr Nuttall, who bought a bunch of grapes and a neck-tie on his walkabout, also described a widely-reported leak of Brexit talks last week between the Prime Minister and a top EU official as “spin”.
But he called on Theresa May to “hold firm”, play “hardball”, and refuse to pay “any divorce bill” to the European Union.