UKIP punish Bill Etheridge for defying party orders in Crimea trip
Bill Etheridge has been stripped of the party whip by UKIP over his controversial trip to the Crimea.
Party leader Gerard Batten announced he has withdrawn the whip from the West Midlands MEP for six months, saying Mr Etheridge had defied his orders by attending a conference in the Russian occupied territory.
Mr Batten says he hopes Mr Etheridge, who lost his seat on Dudley Council last month, will return to the fold in November.
Mr Etheridge described the move as a 'symbolic gesture' and said it would have 'absolutely no impact' on his work in the European Parliament, where he represents the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group (EFDD).
He says he has no plans to reapply for the whip later this year 'unless there is a dramatic change in circumstances' at the top of the party.
During his trip to Yalta in April, Mr Etheridge criticised Britain's involvement in airstrikes on Syria and called for proof that Russia was behind the Salisbury poisoning attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
He also met with high ranking allies of Vladimir Putin, including Crimean head and prime minister Sergey Aksyonov.
In a letter to UKIP members Mr Batten wrote: "Recently, with the full backing of the party chairman and the NEC, I withdrew the whip from Mr Etheridge for a period of six months.
"He may reapply to have it reinstalled in November if he so wishes.
"I took the step of removing the whip from Bill because he defied my instruction to UKIP MEPs not to travel to Russia.
"Even though Bill had accepted my veto on a previous trip to Russia, he continued with his plans for a second trip without advising me, or the UKIP delegation leader, Ray Finch MEP of his intentions.
"Bill took part in a conference, in Russian held territory, in the Crimea.
"Russia is a state hostile to the UK, and I did not feel it was appropriate for our elected representatives to appear to be giving the Russian regime credence it does not deserve; especially at a time when the Russian state is accused of both attempted murder, and murder, on British soil.
"Bill, therefore, does not sit as a UKIP MEP, but I hope that he will return to the fold in November."
Mr Etheridge said: "This is little more than a symbolic gesture from the party leader and it will have absolutely no impact on any of my work.
"I visited the conference to talk about peace and trade as a representative of the West Midlands and have no regrets about going there. I am still a loyal member of the party and will continue to do my job as an MEP."
He added: "Unless there is a dramatic change in circumstances at the top of UKIP I will not be reapplying."