'Go to hell!' - Bill Etheridge in extraordinary attack on UKIP leader over Yalta trip
Bill Etheridge has launched an extraordinary attack on UKIP leader Gerard Batten, saying he can 'go to hell' after he was threatened with disciplinary action over his controversial trip to the Crimea.
The West Midlands MEP and Dudley councillor will be hauled before UKIP's ruling NEC next month to explain his attendance at the International Economic Forum conference in Yalta.
The event was attended by close allies of Vladimir Putin, including Sergey Aksyonov, who the Russian President made head of the Crimea when it was illegally annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.
At the conference Mr Etheridge criticised Britain's involvement in airstrikes on Syria and called for proof that Russia was behind the Salisbury poisoning attack.
His comments were met with a furious response from Mr Batten.
He said Mr Etheridge's behaviour had potentially brought the party into disrepute and as a result he faced disciplinary measures.
But Mr Etheridge has hit back, accusing Mr Batten of attempting to sabotage UKIP's hopes of success in next week's Dudley Council elections, where he is contesting Sedgley ward.
He also warned that he will come out 'all guns blazing' at his disciplinary hearing.
"I couldn't give a damn about his views as he has absolutely no right to dictate where I decide to go in the world," said Mr Etheridge, who admitted he had exchanged a series of 'extremely robust' emails with Mr Batten over the issue.
"The voters can decide to get rid of me if they want, and it is their views I care about, not his. As far as I am concerned he can go to hell.
"The worst thing about all of this is that he has seriously jeopardised UKIP's chances of a spectacular win in Dudley.
"I will be happy to lock horns with him at the NEC meeting. I will be coming out all guns blazing and he had better make sure he is wearing his body armour.
"While he is busy virtue signalling about Russia, I am focused on UKIP values and winning an election."
In March Mr Etheridge pledged his support for Mr Batten as leader after former leader Henry Bolton was voted out.
He called him a 'well respected, experienced elder statesman' and vowed to be 'fiercely loyal to a man I have a great deal of personal respect for'.
Mr Etheridge said his trip to the Crimea was aimed at promoting business opportunities in the West Midlands to Russian investors. He says it was self-funded.