UKIP chief defends backing far-right leader

Tommy Robinson, who founded the far-right English Defence League, has been out on bail since August after winning an appeal against a 13-month jail sentence for contempt of court

The head of Britain's eurosceptic UKIP party on Friday defended attempting to enlist a far-right leader with a growing international profile to boost its depressed membership numbers.

The United Kingdom Independence Party has been searching for direction since achieving its defining objective of getting Britain to back a 2016 referendum on leaving the EU.

It is now flirting with the idea of enrolling Tommy Robinson -- a cult figure in the far-right movement with a growing social media following in the United States.

Current UKIP leader Gerard Batten has backed Robinson's membership as a sure-fire way to expand party ranks.

But former leader Nigel Farage told an annual conference on Friday that he was "really upset" that his successor was flirting with the far-right.

Farage had said on Thursday that UKIP was heading for "total and utter marginalisation" within British politics if it failed to quickly change its course.

Batten hit back in an extended interview with Sky News in which he attacked Farage for associating with US President Donald Trump.

He admitted Robinson's immediate membership was unlikely because it was blocked this month by UKIP's executive committee.

But Batten added: "That's something I would personally approve of ... I don't happen to think that Tommy Robinson is far-right."

Robinson founded the far-right English Defence League (EDL) -- a fringe organisation he has since left -- and has frequently appeared at anti-Islam events.

He has been out on bail since August after winning an appeal against a 13-month jail sentence for contempt of court.

Robison pleaded guilty to the charge after conducting a live webcast during a trial in violation of British rules.

The 35-year-old's case was publically taken up by Trump's former strategist Steve Bannon.