LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s anti-EU UK Independence Party has expelled one of its candidates for a general election in May and replaced her with a recent defector from the opposition Labour Party.
European Parliament deputy Janice Atkinson was dropped from UKIP’s candidates list late on Monday after a party disciplinary meeting investigated allegations that her chief of staff asked for an inflated restaurant bill to charge on her expenses.
In her place as candidate, UKIP brought in Harriet Yeo on Tuesday. The former senior official of the opposition Labour party left it last month in protest at its refusal to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
UKIP is anxious to limit damage to its image before the tightly contested May 7 election, where it is hoping to win a handful of seats to be able to exert pressure on the next government to take Britain out of the EU.
UKIP acted after the Sun newspaper released a video which the newspaper said showed Atkinson’s chief of staff Christine Hewitt asking for an inflated invoice for a restaurant meal that she intended to claim back from an EU parliamentary group.
“Janice Atkinson MEP and Christine Hewitt have been found to have brought the party into disrepute,” said a UKIP statement after Monday’s disciplinary hearing.
“As a result, they have been expelled from UK Independence Party,” it said. UKIP suspended Atkinson on Friday when the scandal first surfaced.
Both women have 14 days to appeal, the UKIP statement said.
Atkinson was not immediately available for comment, but in a statement to the BBC, said she was “deeply disappointed” by the decision and would appeal. She remains an independent MEP.
Atkinson embarrassed the party last year in a separate incident when she was recorded referring to a Thai constituent as a “ting tong”. She subsequently apologised.
Yeo is a former head of Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee, who said when she quit that Britain had to decide whether it would stay in the EU. “The only party I trust to offer us that choice is UKIP,” she said.
UKIP’s rapid rise in popularity, due in part to its calls for tight controls on immigration, has siphoned support from Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party and may cost him an outright victory.
The party has offered a deal to support the Conservatives in government if they agree to bring forward to 2015 a referendum on EU membership which Cameron has promised to hold by 2017 at the latest. Cameron has rejected their overtures.
Additional reporting by Shivam Srivastava in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Tom Heneghan