Tycoon to back Ukip poll campaign
One of Britain's wealthiest men has pledged to do "whatever it takes" to ensure Nigel Farage's UK Independence Party triumphs in next year's elections to the European Parliament.
Eurosceptic businessman Paul Sykes, a former Conservative Party backer, is promising to bankroll Ukip's campaign in an election in which it is already expected to do well.
His intervention will heighten concerns in the Tory ranks that the seemingly inexorable rise of Ukip could scupper any hopes they have of securing an outright majority in the next general election in 2015.
In his last significant foray into the political arena he donated a reported £1.5 million to Ukip's 2004 European election campaign. His backing helped secure a stunning result for the party which quadrupled its number of seats from three to 12.
Mr Sykes, who has previously been estimated to be worth £650 million, has given no indication of how much he is prepared to donate this time other than to say he will do "whatever it takes" to ensure it is the largest UK party in the European parliament.
"I believe we have one last chance to stop the gradual erosion of our national independence. And that chance comes with the European elections," he said in a statement.
"If, as I hope and believe, Ukip score a stunning national victory, then the leaders of the other main parties will have no choice but to abandon their slavish support for the EU.
"Nigel Farage and Ukip are the last best hope for Britain. I am prepared to do whatever it takes to propel them to victory next year."
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said the backing of Mr Sykes would help his party cause an "intended earthquake" in British politics.
"Paul Sykes has a long record of defending British democracy, "he said.
"His involvement in this campaign is a significant boost for UKIP and will help us to cause out intended earthquake in British politics in the European Elections next May."
Although the European elections are a notoriously poor indicator of performance in Westminster elections, there will be concern among Cons ervatives that a strong showing by Ukip next year will give them renewed momentum going into the general election.
While few expect them to take any seats at Westminster, many Tories fear that they will draw enough votes to deny the Conservatives any chance an overall majority.
Mr Sykes was previously a strong supporter and backer of the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s but broke with the party in 1991 over John Major's stance on the Maastricht Treaty. In the 1997 general election, he selectively funded individual eurosceptic candidates.
In 2000 he briefly returned to the Tory fold under William Hague only to be expelled the following year over his hardline views on Europe. He is reported to have given millions of pounds to various eurosceptic causes over the years.
He said that he hoped success for Ukip in next year's election would compel the other parties to accede to calls for an early referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.
"So far they have stubbornly refused to listen. Maybe a comprehensive thrashing at the polls will bring them to their senses. Far better would be to accelerate the whole process and have that in/out referendum on the day of the general election in 2015," he said.