UKIP secures control of £1.5m EU cash, Newsnight learns

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Media captionRoger Helmer MEP says UKIP is trying to "liberate" the money

UKIP has secured control of a £1.5m pot of EU funds by creating a new pan-European party, Newsnight has learned.

The money is normally set aside for parties that want to promote European integration and the decision to seek the funding has split UKIP members.

Some members believe it is is wrong for an aggressively Eurosceptic party to jump aboard the "EU gravy train".

UKIP MEP Roger Helmer has defended the move and said the party needs to take a more pragmatic approach to funding.

Mr Helmer, head of the party's delegation in Europe, added that this was a way of "liberating money" that would otherwise have gone to pro-European parties.

Party members opposing the move complain that UKIP staged an internal referendum on the issue three years ago - and rejected the idea of accepting EU money in this way.

'Respect principles'

Documents obtained by Newsnight show UKIP has secured the funds by registering to become part of a new pan-European party, the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE).

This new party, currently made up mostly of UKIP MEPs, is entitled to £1m of EU funds next year.

An accompanying foundation, called the Initiative for Direct Democracy in Europe, will support ADDE and is entitled to a grant of £580,000.

UKIP accounts for 21 of the party's registered 27 members, giving it control of the EU funding it receives.

Newsnight understands the European Parliament could announce its approval of UKIP's application later this week and that the money will be available from April next year.

Under the rules which govern these grants, UKIP will have "to respect the principles on which the European Union is founded" - namely liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.

Mr Helmer told Newsnight he expected the party to be criticised for taking the money but insisted UKIP could not afford to be too principled on the issue.

"We are going to be criticised by those who say 'you should turn your back on this money, you should take a principled stand and refuse it'," he said. "But it doesn't make any difference to the taxpayer.

"If we don't take the money, it will not go back to the member state of the taxpayer. It will simply go to those other foundations committed to further European integration."

He added: "We think that if there are resources available, we want to get them.

"So the question for any UKIP supporter who has a reasonable issue here is - would you rather this money, which is British taxpayers' money, would you rather this money was given to one of the German or other foundations which promote further European integration, or would you rather some of the money goes to us to oppose European integration?

"We are doing it precisely so we can liberate some of that money that would otherwise go to integrationist organisations."

Mr Helmer said that the money could not be used for direct campaigning during the general election, but that it could be used for research and promoting UKIP ideas.

'No consultation'

The move has been denounced by another UKIP MEP.

Gerrard Batten, one of London's MEPs, told Newsnight the party staged an internal referendum on the issue three years ago - and rejected the idea of taking EU cash by establishing a new pan-European party.

He said: "I'm not interested in being part of a European political party. The members of UKIP weren't asked. There's been no consultation.

"We had a referendum last time which was expensive. I can't think of any arguments that would make me want to join. I think the feeling among the activists is that they won't be in favour of it."

And Tim Congdon, who led the opposition during the 2011 internal UKIP vote on joining a European political party, said: "In 2011 UKIP held a big internal debate on the issue. The party membership voted two to one against UKIP's affiliation to a PEPP.

"That was the clear and unambiguous democratic verdict of the party membership after a big debate extending over several months. I am much saddened that the leadership should now have decided to ignore and overrule the clearly expressed view of the party membership."

Mr Congdon was defeated by Nigel Farage in UKIP's 2010 leadership election.

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Image caption Kerry Smith, who resigned as a prospective parliamentary candidate for UKIP

The disclosure comes after a bruising few weeks for UKIP.

Over the weekend, Kerry Smith resigned as a prospective parliamentary candidate, after he admitted making offensive remarks about gay people.

He had succeeded the former Tory minister Neil Hamilton, who had to step aside when the party raised questions about his expenses.

Another candidate, Natasha Bolter, also withdrew as a prospective parliamentary candidate amid an investigation into allegations she made against the party's general secretary Roger Bird.

UKIP already secures substantial funding from the EU by virtue of its involvement with the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group (EFDD).

Such groups are separate from pan-European political parties, known as PEPPS, or the foundations that support them.

UKIP received £2.1m from its involvement with the EFDD group in 2013.

You can watch more on this story on Monday's Newsnight on BBC Two at 22:30 GMT.

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