LONDON, Jan 23 — Britain’s anti-EU, anti-immigration UK Independence Party was in chaos yesterday after its leader Henry Bolton refused to stand down despite calls to and resignations from a string of senior colleagues.
The 54-year-old former soldier has insisted that attempts to remove him are a distraction from efforts to ensure the government delivers Brexit, and the party cannot handle a change of leadership.
“I just simply do not believe that the party can go through a national leadership contest again, both financially and politically,” he told former UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s radio show in an interview yesterday evening.
Bolton vowed to remain in charge and fight to win approval from members for an overhaul of the party’s constitution and structure at an extraordinary general meeting to be held within 28 days.
“I’m staying on for the reasons of sorting all that out,” he added.
“I’m doing it because I think it’s in the interests of the party and the nation.”
The NEC, UKIP’s ruling committee, on Sunday declared a vote of no confidence in their leader.
The decision triggered the membership wide meeting and prompted an exodus of senior figures from their spokesperson roles on Monday, all demanding Bolton quit.
It followed a scandal over racist messages sent by his girlfriend about Prince Harry’s mixed race fiancee Meghan Markle.
Bolton, who left his wife last year, ended the relationship with 25-year-old party activist Jo Marney after her messages were published in a newspaper.
But assistant deputy leader Mike Hookem, a member of the European Parliament, was among the party members who said they could no longer serve under Bolton amid what he said was “an almost farcical scandal”.
“UKIP is now in the preposterous situation of the leader’s private life being of more interest than the party,” Hookem wrote in his resignation letter.
But Farage, who tangled with the NEC during his own tenure at the helm, backed Bolton’s stance, branding the committee “not qualified to make big political decisions”.
“I’m very very pleased indeed,” he told his radio audience shortly after interviewing the under-fire UKIP leader.
“This issue now is not about Henry Bolton, it’s bigger than that.
“If UKIP doesn’t change it won’t exist in 18 months time.”
‘Drain the swamp’
The NEC’s vote of no confidence opens the way for a full vote by party members expected next month.
In a statement earlier yesterday, Bolton had said it was “time to put an end to the factional in-fighting within the party and to remove those who have been a part of that”.
Echoing US President Donald Trump during his election campaign, Bolton added: “It is time to ‘Drain the Swamp’.”
He took over in September, the third elected leader of UKIP since the referendum on Britain’s EU membership in June 2016.
The party’s co-founder Nigel Farage had stepped down after the vote, declaring that his political ambition had been achieved.
A surge of support for UKIP had helped force the referendum in the first place, and Farage played a leading role in the campaign, pushing an anti-immigration, anti-establishment message.
But UKIP has suffered since then from in-fighting and a lack of leadership, lurching from one crisis to the next.
Farage’s immediate successor, Diane James, only survived 18 days in the top job, forcing him back as interim leader.
His former deputy Paul Nuttall was elected in November 2016, but quit after failing to make headway in the June 2017 election. — AFP