UKIP leadership hopeful Lisa Duffy has denied claims of chasing the "bigot vote" after calling for a shutdown of Sharia courts, the closure of Islamic faith schools, and a ban on full-face veils in public buildings.
Duffy said on Monday that UKIP should not shy away from talking about "difficult issues" – and denied she was seeking to "drive hatred" in the wake of Britain's vote to leave the European Union.
But one of her rivals, UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge, said it was wrong to focus on "small issues like Islam which makes us look small-minded", adding pointedly: "I'm not chasing the bigot vote."
In a speech in Westminster, Duffy said she simply wanted to make sure that young Muslim women in Britain enjoyed the same rights and freedoms as white Christians.
The Cambridgeshire councillor said she understood why the full-face veil made people "get angry" – and said it was wrong to "make an exception for a community because we are frightened of causing offence".
She said: "I think that on our public transport networks, in public buildings, banks, stores and shopping precincts – all those places where teenagers are told to take their hoodies down and where motorcyclists are expected to remove their helmets – it is only reasonable to expect everyone to show their faces."
Duffy called for a "complete and comprehensive ban" on Sharia courts, which she warned "lock in the totally unjustifiable repression of women that is so common in Muslim communities".
And she demanded that Islamic faith schools are closed down until the "Islamist terror threat is securely in remission". "Until we can be sure no Muslim school will teach ideas contrary to the wellbeing of our country, this is a tough but necessary measure," she said.
But she insisted UKIP was a "positive party" that held "no truck" with the far-right English Defence League (EDL) which has also demanded a veil ban. Calling on Muslims to join UKIP, she said: "The Muslims who were born in this country; they are as British as I am and I simply want them to feel as British as I do."
Answering questions from reporters, Duffy dismissed Etheridge's jibe that she was chasing the "bigot vote". "It sounds to me like he’s trying to get some press off the back of my speech," she said.
She also rejected a comparison to the Republican US presidential candidate. "I don’t think I can compare to Donald Trump at all if I’m really honest, I’m very different to him," she said.
"As UKIP leader, I want us not to shy away from difficult issues. I’m not going to be hounded into a corner to be made to feel this is the wrong thing to talk about. I’ve travelled the country knocking on doors – there is a fear out there, and that is unfair on all Muslims."
Duffy, 48, is one of six candidates vying to replace Nigel Farage as UKIP leader, alongside Etheridge, Diane James, Elizabeth Jones, Jonathan Arnott, and Phillip Broughton. The winner will be announced at UKIP's conference in Bournemouth on 15 September.