MULTI-MILLIONAIRE Yorkshire businessman Paul Sykes strengthened his grip on the UK Independence Party today after he was handed the job of overseeing its campaign in the run-up to next May’s election.
Mr Sykes, the builder of Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping centre, has been a prominent backer of the party and is widely understood to have contributed more than £1 million to its European election campaign last spring, which saw it taking 12 seats in Brussels.
The tycoon, who has previously been tipped to become Ukip’s overall chairman, will now head up the team targeting key marginal seats and developing a national campaign strategy.
My Sykes, a 71-year-old long-time Euro-sceptic, is a miner’s son from South Yorkshire who made his fortune from scrap metal, vehicles, property and the Internet. Along with Nigel Farage, he is seen as one of the pivotal figures in transforming Ukip from a fringe group into a political force that has changed the nature of the debate on Britain’s relationship with Europe.
His £650m fortune has made him the 26th wealthiest person in Britain.
A former Conservative, he split with the party in 1991 following a disagreement over EU membership. William Hague attempted to bring him back into the fold with the promise of ruling Britain out of the single currency, but he again walked away, accusing the former leader of going back on his word. He remained an admirer of Margaret Thatcher, calling her “the best Socialist I have ever known”.
Ukip chairman Steve Crowther said Mr Sykes was “committed passionately to UK independence” and had been “working to re-establish our right to govern ourselves and control our own country for 25 years”.
He added: “Paul has played a huge role in our successes this year, and we are delighted to have him on board for the ‘big one’ – our drive to get UKIP MPs into Parliament next May.”
Mr Sykes said: “I would like to thank UKIP’s national executive committee for having the trust in me to head up the campaign to win as many target seats as possible. Only by electing UKIP MPs to the House of Commons can we hope to start getting back control of our own borders from the EU, and making our own laws in our own Parliament, and once again become a truly self-governing democracy.”