The chairman of Conservative Future Ben Howlett says UKIP members who support equal marriage and are disgruntled with the party’s current row on the matter should consider joining the Tories.

Mr Howlett believes they would be warmly welcomed and is using the opportunity to promote an upcoming reception with Conservative Environment Secretary Owen Patterson – who has previously said he will not support the government’s policy on equal marriage.    

In an interview to London Spin, Mr Howlett spoke of the decision to remove Olly Nevile from his post as chairman of UKIP’s youth wing, which was in part because of support for marriage equality.

Mr Howlett said: “I think it is a real shame that Olly Neville has been treated in such a way by Nigel Farage, the UKIP leadership and their party chairman. This is an act more associated with the Communist Party than a serious political party.

“Olly’s position is a very honourable one to take, clearly setting out his libertarian social principles. As most know these are view I share, if two people love each other, I think they should be able to have their commitment recognised in the eyes of the law, with the name marriage attached to it.”

He went on to say: “Conservative Future and the Conservative Party are a broad church of opinion, I will not always agree with everything everyone says, if I did, I would need a psychologist…but that is why the Conservative Party has been so successful over the centuries.

“Our job is to have unfettered discussion and debate without worry of losing your democratically elected position. This top down style in politics is out dated and ridiculous, we on the centre right of politics believe in bottom up, empowerment and support of the grassroots. Hence we see CF membership increase year on year.”

UKIP say they fully support the concept of civil partnerships but oppose any move to legislate for same-sex marriage and claim the issue is being pushed by a “small but noisy minority within the gay community”.