Ukip leader Nigel Farage accused of making threats in bid to win funding

Two of the Eurosceptic party's former MEPs claim they were put under pressure to break European Union rules

Nigel Farage has been accused of putting pressure on two MEPs to break European rules as he sought to gain tens of thousands of pounds in taxpayers' money for the UK Independence party.

Nikki Sinclaire, MEP for the West Midlands, told the Guardian the Ukip leader told her the party would not be able to gain access to extra funds meant for a new political grouping without her support.

If she failed to support the group, Farage said he would destroy her political reputation, she alleges. Sinclaire left Ukip in 2010 after clashing with the leadership.

A second MEP claims she was asked by Farage to secure an assistant for his 2010 general election campaign using money from Brussels, in breach of strict EU regulations. Marta Andreasen, who also left Ukip – joining the Conservatives last month – says Farage told her women of childbearing age should not work because they are "a burden to their companies".

Friends of Farage said Sinclaire had been a "thorn in his side" for many years and had an axe to grind. A Ukip spokesman told the Guardian: "We do not respond to vexatious allegations of this kind from our political opponents."

Andreasen and Farage have clashed publicly before – after she quit Ukip, the party leader said: "Having left the OECD, the European commission and Ukip in unpleasant circumstances, the Conservative party deserve what is coming to them. The woman is impossible."

Farage and his party argue that the EU is a waste of money and call for Britain's withdrawal. Over the last 10 years, Ukip has raised £6.2m, according to the Electoral Commission, with hundreds of thousands of pounds coming from its MEPs, whose salaries and expenses are met by European taxpayers.

Ukip ran the Lib Dems a close second last week in the Eastleigh byelection. All three main parties are now wrestling with how to respond to the rise of the Eurosceptic party, which is to field about 2,000 candidates in the May council elections.

Both accusers are the only female MEPs ever elected by Ukip and both left the party, claiming there is a sexist attitude at the top of the organisation.

Sinclaire, a close associate of Farage for 14 years, said she was "intimidated and bullied" by him as he sought to establish the European Freedom and Democracy group in the European parliament.

In July 2009, he had secured 29 MEPs from a number of countries to support the establishment of the group. Sinclaire alleges that he told her he needed a 30th MEP to ensure that he secured additional funds. When she replied that she was unsure because of homophobic and antisemitic comments by Italian politicians who were part of the grouping, he responded by threatening her, she said.

"He said to me that unless I signed up to this group by 10am the following morning then it would cost the party half a million pounds and it would be all my fault," she said. "If I didn't sign up, he said he would make sure that everyone knew it was my fault and damage my standing in the party."

"There is no doubt in my mind that he was seeking these funds for the political party, not for the new group," she said. "His main objective was to get the party to gain access to more money, and he was prepared to bully me to get it."

EU sources said if a grouping increased the number of MEPs from 29 to 30, its funding would be increased by about €50,000. EU rules state money for groupings should not be used for party political purposes, but Sinclaire said the funds were supposed to be sent instead to Ukip and filtered through to London. Sinclaire eventually joined the group, but regretted doing so, she said. She left it in 2010 and is now an independent MEP.

Andreasen is an MEP for South East England and a former Ukip treasurer who defected to the Conservative party last month. She said Farage instructed her to recruit an assistant on the party's publicly funded Brussels payroll, despite rules that MEPs' assistants must work for at least part of their time on European parliament business.

"I had a specific situation where I was asked to recruit someone for the southeast region [where she and Farage are MEPs]," she said. "I realised he was only going to work on the general election in 2010 with Nigel Farage, who was standing in Buckingham.

"He [Farage] told me to draw up the contract for him and he would give me a staff member from the group in Brussels. He wanted me to recruit someone who would work in an office in the northern part of the south-east constituency, close to Buckingham."

Andreasen said the contract would have been for an assistant earning around £40,000 a year pro-rata and they got as far as identifying the assistant Farage wanted, but she realised Farage was asking her to use an MEP's allowance solely for his UK political campaigning. She said she decided it would have breached parliamentary regulations and declined.

EU rules state: "The provided allowances are only eligible when spent on activities and objects which are directly linked to the office of a member of the European parliament."

A Ukip MEP has been found to have misused taxpayer-funded allowances following a crackdown by Olaf, Europe's anti-fraud watchdog. Derek Clark, an MEP for the East Midlands, had successfully applied for money from the EU to pay for two assistants in 2004 and 2005. But instead of working for Clark, the inquiry found they worked almost exclusively for Ukip from Britain.

Clark, who has given more than £190,000 to the party in the past 10 years, said last year that he began paying political workers with EU money only after being asked to do so by an adviser to the party, whom he refused to name.

Andreasen said Farage and others were "very dismissive and disrespectful" when discussing legislation that affects women.

"The general attitude was that we would never support anything that was in favour of women. He told me that his attitude was that women who are at the age of being able to give birth to children should not be employed because they are a burden to their companies. It is a very extreme position.

"He dismisses you as if you were not a proper interlocuter. He does not discuss with you, because you are a lower-level human being. I could not respond or be angry about each thing that would happen," she said.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch said that he had invited Farage to his London flat for dinner. The News International chairman told his followers on Twitter that Farage was "reflecting opinion" at the dinner. "Few days in UK, Italy. Politics both places very fluid, economies going nowhere. New leaders emerging on distant horizon," he tweeted. "Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, few excellent, frustrated ministers. Farage reflecting opinion. Florence mayor Renzi brilliant young Italian."

Sinclaire said she had faced many years of sexism from the party. Ukip used to hold national executive meetings in men-only gentlemen's clubs in central London such as the Caledonian Club. "I was allowed to attend the actual meeting but could not join the rest of the NEC in the bar, where the eventual decisions were actually made," she added.

Additional reporting by Flora MacQueen


Rajeev Syal and Robert Booth

The GuardianTramp

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