Farage to use EU exit money on NHS
Nigel Farage has promised to use money saved by quitting the European Union to inject extra cash into the NHS as he sought to limit the damage caused by a Ukip MEP defecting to the Tories and embarrassing comments from a senior party official.
The Ukip leader, who pledged an extra £3 billion a year for the health service, hit out at the party's former communities spokesman Amjad Bashir after his defection to join David Cameron's party.
Ukip said it had suspended Mr Bashir shortly before news of his decision to join the Tories emerged, and Mr Farage said the party had become "increasingly alarmed" about allegations of impropriety.
Mr Bashir dismissed his former party's move as a "desperate attempt" to smear him to distract from the news of his decision to join the Conservatives and insisted there was "not a shred of truth" to the claims.
But Mr Farage told BBC 1's Andrew Marr Show: " We have been increasingly alarmed by Mr Bashir's behaviour over the last few months."
He claimed the MEP "didn't tell us the truth" about the alleged employment of illegal immigrants in his restaurant business and there are "some big open questions in Brussels about money".
There were also claims of interference in candidate selection in Keighley, West Yorkshire and links with "political extremists" from Pakistan.
He warned Mr Cameron "caveat emptor" - buyer beware.
Mr Farage said: " The final straw on Friday, (was) the hustings meeting that took place in West Yorkshire where gerrymandering appears to have taken place."
When Mr Bashir's denials were put to him Mr Farage added: " He can deny that, but I tell you what he can't deny and that's his continuing association with political extremists from Pakistan despite us saying please, please, keep away.
"Whichever way we look at this, he had reached the end of the road with us, he knew that.
"My only surprise, and my genuine surprise, is that the Conservative Party have accepted him. Caveat emptor."
The Ukip leader said last year MEPs had been "begging me to get rid of Amjad Bashir back in October and November of last year and I chose to take the tolerant approach and I was wrong".
Mr Bashir left his former party with a stinging parting shot, telling The Telegraph that Ukip had become a "party of ruthless self-interest", was "pretty amateur" and had a "ridiculous" lack of policies.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday he said Ukip's reaction when the party found out he intended to defect "sums up what is wrong with them".
"They made a crude attempt to smear me with false allegations of irregularities in the recruitment of Asian members in Bradford," he said
"There is not a shred of truth in any of the claims but it has made me more convinced than ever that I made the right decision."
He claimed Mr Farage "runs the party like a dictator" and the party had "outlived its usefulness" because the Tories were now the best hope of a referendum on Europe.
He said: "I have decided to leave Ukip because it has become a vanity project for Nigel Farage and because many of the criticisms made of the party are true. David Cameron famously said that Ukip was a party of 'fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists'.
"Certainly, I have experienced racism in Ukip. I have been racially abused on social media by other Ukip members who ask offensive questions like: 'Are you a Muslim?'
"I was angry when I was the only Ukip politician who was cut out of a video of speeches at a party event. I complained that it was because of my ethnic minority background, but was fobbed off."
The Ukip leader also brushed off comments made by party secretary Matthew Richardson saying that Ukip should represent "bigots" and labelling the NHS a "waste of money".
Mr Farage said the "bigots" comments were a pub joke and the remarks about the NHS were made in 2010 when Mr Richardson was a Conservative.
Mr Farage predicted that Ukip would win a "good number" of seats at the general election, adding that meant "more than three or four".
He said joining a formal coalition was "unlikely" adding "don't think the lure of a ministerial car is the reason I got into politics".
Ukip "couldn't do any deal with Ed Miliband" unless he agreed to a referendum on Europe, while Mr Farage said he would only support the Tories if they agreed to hold an early in/out vote under strict rules banning citizens from other EU countries participating.
"We could potentially do a deal with Mr Cameron on this but not unless the timing and the terms of the referendum were right," he said.
"I want a guarantee that in this referendum the only people that can vote are British citizens because at the moment there are four million or so EU citizens living in Britain who I do not think should be allowed to vote in that referendum".
Mr Farage, who has advocated an insurance-funded model for the NHS in the past, insisted Ukip was committed to a health service that was free at the point of delivery.
But he said the service was struggling because of the "massive increase" in the country's population.
He called for measures to crack down on health tourism and said people studying for medical subjects should be exempt from tuition fees to reduce the NHS's reliance on migrant workers.
He said: "We want the NHS to be better run, we want it to be more efficient. We think it's ludicrous that middle management has grown by 48%, we think the fact that health tourism is costing £2 billion a year is wrong and the fact that one in five new nurses being taken on have to come from abroad says to us 'let's make sure there are no tuition fees for people who are taking medical degrees'.
"We want a National Health Service that is free at the point of delivery and funded through taxation.
"But the one thing nobody dares say is the reason we have an NHS crisis right now is because of a massive increase in the population in this country."
He added: "We would promise an extra £3 billion a year for the National Health Service funded out of the fact that we will not be paying daily membership fees as members of the European Union."
Mr Farage stood by his comments that people with HIV should not be allowed to come to the UK to seek treatment, adding that the same should apply to all other areas of health including maternity services.
He said: " I very much take the view that it is a National Health Service, and to open ourselves up - whether it's to HIV treatment, whether it's to maternity services or whatever it is - to the rest of the world, doesn't make sense. It is costing us at least £2 billion a year, the National Health Service is here for British citizens."
Talking about Mr Bashir's defection, Tory chairman Grant Shapps said: "It has been discussed over a period of time obviously and it's great to see."
Mr Shapps played down the allegations surrounding Mr Bashir telling Sky News' Murnaghan programme it was "absolute desperate stuff there by Ukip".
He added the idea that Ukip was about to suspend him was "complete nonsense".
Mr Farage said he was surprised the Tories would touch Mr Bashir "with a bargepole" and claimed Ukip had known about the intended defection for months.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics he had discussed Mr Bashir's position with deputy leader Paul Nuttall but had dismissed the prospect of a defection.
"We have known for seven or eight weeks that he was in talks with the Tory party," he said. "I have to confess I jokingly said to Paul Nuttall we can deal with this in our own time, there's no way the Conservatives will touch him with a bargepole, and that's the big surprise to me."
He said as well as the allegations of impropriety there had been a political rift with the MEP.
"I'm surprised by the direction of travel that Amjad Bashir has taken since being elected. Firstly political, now he is a big advocate of an extension of EU foreign policy to recognise Palestine, which led to a huge row between 23 of us and him.
"I'm very surprised that he is now a campaigner for Turkey to join the European Union.
"So the first rift with him has been political."
Mr Shapps insisted he was "absolutely satisfied" that Mr Bashir was a "mainstream" and "moderate" politician, although he acknowledged he did not "know every single view" held by the Tories' new recruit.
He said: "We know that he was due to speak this weekend and next weekend at Ukip rallies but of course they want to muddy the waters and slur his name on things which have been out there for a year."
Challenged on BBC1's Sunday Politics about how thoroughly the Conservatives had vetted him, Mr Shapps said: "I am absolutely satisfied that this is somebody who is mainstream, believes that this country's future would be better served by a Conservative government and believes the only way to get that in/out referendum on Europe is to ensure that we have that Conservative government."
He added: "I am absolutely satisfied that he is a very moderate MEP who has seen that the only way to deliver what he wants is through the Conservatives."
Respect MP George Galloway said his party de-selected Mr Bashir as a council candidate ahead of the 2012 local elections.
The Bradford West MP refused to say what the issues were that led to Mr Bashir's sacking "b ut they were sufficiently grave to make us realise that he was not a fit and proper person to represent Respect".
"Clearly both Ukip and the Tories have lower standards."
Mr Galloway said: " Clearly Bashir does not have any real political principles or commitment, only naked opportunism and self-interest.
"He represents the revolving door principle in politics. The Tories are welcome to him because he will cause them embarrassment. Fortunately Respect was able to act before he did it to us."