Ukip's deputy leader has claimed that the party is the natural home for Catholic voters ahead of a meeting with Catholic bishops due on Thursday.
“Look at the statistics,” said Paul Nuttall, a practising Catholic and Member of the European Parliament for the North-West of England. “Twelve per cent of Catholics have already indicated that they are going to vote, or have already voted, Ukip. On moral issues, we, more than any other political party, are more in line with Catholic thought. Whether it’s on gender-choice abortion or same-sex marriage, we are absolutely 100 per cent behind the Catholic Church.”
Last week the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales urged worshippers at Sunday Mass to challenge election candidates on their position over issues such as immigration, a point taken up by Mr Nuttall.
“You could say the hierarchy is a bit like Acpo – the Association of Chief Police Officers. I am more interested in the Police Federation – the grass roots.”
Mr Nuttall said he hoped that a meeting planned for Thursday with Bishop Patrick Lynch, chairman of the bishops’ conference office for migration policy, would be “a case of winning hearts and minds, and maybe putting to bed some of the myths about Ukip and allaying some of the bishops’ fears”.
“We don’t get a fair shake in the national press and I guess that’s where the bishops get their perception from. We want to show them that we are a serious, credible political party that has a significant amount of support among Catholics,” said Mr Nuttall.
He said that immigration and the European Union had dominated debate last year because of elections to the European Parliament, but this year the party wanted to show it was active on other policy areas. He claimed that Ukip was the only anti-war party, opposing involvement in Iraq, Libya and Syria and had argued that Christians fleeing Syria should find refuge in Britain.
Last year, Bishop William Kenney, the bishops' conference spokesman on European affairs counselled caution about Ukip, saying he was not convinced its policies would help the "poor and under-priveleged".