Nigel Farage quits as Ukip leader but may return after break

After defeat in South Thanet, Farage says he will take summer off and then consider whether to put his name forward to resume leadership

It must have seemed too good to be true for the Tories as a defeated Nigel Farage confirmed he would stick to his promise to resign as Ukip leader, having failed in his seventh attempt to enter parliament.

Not only had Farage lost in South Thanet by almost 2,000 votes, but Ukip lost one of its two seats to the Tories and failed to take any of its targets, which had included Castle Point, Boston, Great Yarmouth, Thurrock and Aylesbury.

Ukip aides attributed this to a severe squeeze on their older, right-leaning vote as supporters took fright at David Cameron’s warnings of an SNP-Labour alliance.

However, the Conservative joy at having “cut off the serpent’s head” was somewhat tempered by suspicions that the Ukip beast may still prove to be a hydra.

Summoning the press to a hotel on the outskirts of Margate, Farage did not even wait for his opponents to complete their speeches.

“I don’t break my word, so I shall be writing to the Ukip national executive in a few minutes saying that I am standing down as leader of Ukip,” he said.

Then came what many listening to him immediately regarded as a “but”.

“I intend to take the summer off, enjoy myself, not do very much at all, and then there will be a leadership election for the next leader of Ukip in September and I will consider over the course of this summer whether to put my name forward and do the job again.”

Challenged repeatedly that he was not actually resigning but just taking a break, Farage insisted: “I have resigned as leader of Ukip, I have kept my promise … but of course I am not walking away from Ukip. Ukip is becoming more exciting in a way we have seen over the last few weeks.”

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage addresses the media in Margate. Photograph: Niklas Halle'en/AFP/Getty Images

For seasoned Farage-watchers, this probable U-turn is not entirely a surprise. After all, he pulled a similar trick when he resigned as Ukip leader in 2009, making way for a disastrous period of leadership by Lord Pearson before returning to the helm after the last election.

On top of that, the party is not exactly brimming with credible candidates to lead in his stead, let alone those who can command the popular support that Farage has done over the last few years. Senior Ukippers including the campaign director Patrick O’Flynn and donor Arron Banks have been begging Farage to stay on over the last few days, presumably suspecting that the party lives and dies with his leadership.

Banks told the Guardian on Thursday night that “of course” he would support whoever led the party. However, he also made it clear that he believed Farage had done a “bloody good job” and he wanted him to continue.

Looking tired but also somewhat relieved, Farage said he had recommended the deputy leader Suzanne Evans to be a caretaker leader and claimed to have had a weight lifted from his shoulders. He had suffered back pain during the first part of Ukip’s campaign, which got off to a slow and chaotic start.

“There’s a bit of me that’s disappointed but there’s a bit that’s happier than I have felt for years,” he said. “It really has been unrelenting, seven days a week, occasionally let down by people who perhaps have not said or done the right thing.”

Evans, while a competent media performer, lacks the star quality and charisma that propelled Farage’s party to victory in the European elections, won him two Tory defectors and attracted around 3.5m votes in the general election.

However, Ukip sources insist she is a good choice to steady the ship after Farage failed to deliver the political earthquake he was predicting in the autumn, when the party was at 19% in the polls and some even suggested he could take more than 100 seats.

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage at the vote count in Margate early on Friday. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Nationally, the picture was not all bad, with the party taking 12.7% of the vote overall – a share that Farage attributed to Ukip’s social media strategy in the absence of a network of activists on the scale of the other parties.

There were more than 100 second places across the country, including in northern Labour strongholds such as Sunderland, Hartlepool and Heywood & Middleton.

Ukip activists at the Margate count were visibly downcast, however, after the party threw a large bulk of its campaign resources into the seat. A last-minute £1m donation from the Express newspaper owner Richard Desmond clearly failed to make a difference in the areas to which it was directed. “It’s all been for nothing,” said one elderly female activist to a senior local official.

But despite the mixed fortunes of the night, Ukip aides insisted the party would soldier on. Farage suggested Ukip’s future direction could be campaigning for electoral reform, among other issues. He said older voters had turned from the party to the Conservatives “for fear of the SNP” but its support among under-30s had increased.

“What we have seen over the last few weeks are our older voters being squeezed and they have been replaced, even under a first-past-the-post system, by young men and women who are now supporting Ukip in real numbers,” Farage claimed, although statistics are yet to bear out this boast.

“What we have got to do is turn it into a mass membership organisation that doesn’t just want to change our relationship with Europe and control immigration, but get positive electoral reform.”

Sources close to Farage said there was no way he would miss being part of the political movement that pushes for the UK to leave the European Union when David Cameron calls a referendum before the end of 2017.

Although he might not necessarily do this as part of Ukip, it does not seem as though Farage is ready to retire from public life just yet.


Rowena Mason and Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Real change can only be gained through Ukip, claims Nigel Farage
Ukip leader set to present ‘fully costed’ manifesto, including promises to impose strict limits on immigration and increase defence spending

Rowena Mason Political correspondent

14, Apr, 2015 @11:01 PM

Article image
Nigel Farage withdraws resignation as Ukip leader
Party says it refused to accept Farage’s decision to step down and he will continue as leader despite election defeat

Rowena Mason Political correspondent

11, May, 2015 @3:33 PM

Article image
Nigel Farage: Labour and Tory attacks on Ukip leader backfire

Attacks have confirmed Ukip leader as anti-establishment candidate, according to telephone polling and focus groups

Patrick Wintour, Rowena Mason and Nicholas Watt

21, May, 2014 @8:28 AM

Article image
Ukip plane crash leaves ex-leader Nigel Farage in hospital
Anti-EU party's candidate in Buckingham injured along with pilot after aircraft gets tangled in campaign banner it was towing

Owen Bowcott

06, May, 2010 @6:45 PM

Article image
Nigel Farage resigns as Ukip leader after failure to win Westminster seat
Calls for electoral reform as party picks up 12% of vote and comes second in at least 90 seats, but fails to win targets such as South Thanet and loses Rochester

Ben Quinn and Rowena Mason, political correspondent

08, May, 2015 @8:56 AM

Article image
Nigel Farage to attack Cameron over immigration levels pledge
Ukip leader will say at Dover unveiling of party’s first billboard poster that reducing immigration to tens of thousands is not possible while UK is in EU

Rowena Mason political correspondent

30, Mar, 2015 @10:41 PM

Article image
Nigel Farage accuses BBC of bias over questions about candidates
Ukip leader criticises broadcaster after Today programme interview for failing to ask other party leaders about ‘bad eggs in their ranks’

Rowena Mason Political correspondent

02, Apr, 2015 @9:12 AM

Article image
Nigel Farage seems nervous – even his supporters can’t ask questions
The Ukip leader was supposed to be putting Grimsby back on the map, but he had bigger fish to fry – a trip to Cleethorpes with Joey Essex

Marina Hyde

08, Apr, 2015 @3:57 PM

Article image
Nigel Farage: Indian and Australian immigrants better than eastern Europeans
Ukip leader says two countries are more similar to the UK as he admits using heightened rhetoric about immigration to boost general election campaign

Rowena Mason Political correspondent

22, Apr, 2015 @6:35 PM

Article image
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

Rajeev Syal and Robert Booth

07, Mar, 2013 @11:29 PM