Nigel Farage resigns as Ukip leader after 'achieving political ambition' of Brexit

Man who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU says he is stepping down from leadership of the party

Nigel Farage has resigned as leader of Ukip, saying he had fulfilled his political ambitions after successfully campaigning for the UK to vote for Brexit and that it was time for him to take a rest.

It is the third time he has stepped down as the party leader, but Farage dismissed the idea of coming back again in the future and claimed standing as an MP was no longer top of his to-do list.

Speaking at a press conference in Westminster on Monday, he said: “During the referendum I said I wanted my country back … now I want my life back.”

Farage, 52, was originally leader from 2006 to 2009 and came back to the job after the 2010 election, overseeing the rise of Ukip from a fringe single-issue party to a major political force. He then stepped down after the 2015 election, only to “unresign” just days later, as he wanted to lead Ukip’s campaign to leave the EU.

The MEP insisted his latest resignation was for good but raised the prospect of taking some role in negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU, saying he “might have something to give”.

The race to find a successor will now begin, with possible candidates including deputy leader Paul Nuttall, immigration spokesman Steven Woolfe, culture spokesman Peter Whittle, Suzanne Evans, who is currently suspended, Diane James, an MEP, or the party’s only MP, Douglas Carswell.

Carswell asked about smiley face tweet after Farage’s resignation

Carswell, who has frequently clashed with Farage, tweeted a smiley face emoji in response to the resignation.

But he ruled himself out of running for the leadership, saying the chances were “somewhere between nil and zero”. He said his role was to “steer Ukip away from the temptations of becoming an angry nativist party”, arguing it went too far in the referendum campaign by playing on people’s fears about immigration.

In contrast, Nuttall, an MEP for the North West of England, said he was considering whether to run. Ukip’s deputy leader is thought to be the candidate who could pose the biggest threat to Labour in its northern heartlands.

“We have some fantastic opportunities to move on and benefit from the mess that the Labour party’s in,” he said. “You’ve got a Labour party that doesn’t represent that working class in the way that it used to – we can move in on to their territory. Equally if the Conservative party elects someone who isn’t a Brexiteer and begins to backslide on the renegotiation we can move in on their ground too. The future is really bright for this party.”

Evans told Sky News she would have liked to run but that she is suspended and therefore ineligible.

Farage declined to be drawn on who should be the new Ukip leader but said someone would be in place before its autumn conference.

He also refused to say who he backed as the new Tory leader but argued that it must be one of the three – Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove or Liam Fox – who backed Britain’s exit from the EU.

Farage’s resignation comes after days of speculation that Arron Banks, the Ukip donor and leader of the Leave.EU group, could distance his group from the party and form a more distinct political movement.

Leave.EU has released polling suggesting its members support Leadsom, the Conservative energy minister, to become the next prime minister.

Following the resignation, Banks said Farage was “not going away as a political figure” and that if the remain-supporting Theresa May became prime minister a new pro-Brexit party could emerge as “Ukip on steroids”.

The insurance multimillionaire is backing Woolfe to replace Farage, who he praised for achieving “the political equivalent of climbing Everest backwards in the winter with no equipment” by winning the EU referendum.

Asked if Farage could return to lead a broader grouping of anti-EU, Labour, Conservative and Ukip voters, Banks said: “Not at this stage ... it depends who is the leader of Ukip ... It depends on who the Conservatives elect.”

He said a win for Leadsom “would make it very difficult for Ukip in Tory areas”. That would leave a Ukip led by Woolfe, who he said appealed to Labour voters, to “focus solely on Labour in the same way as SNP did to them in Scotland”.

Farage insisted Ukip would continue as a party in its current form but went on to hint at possibilities for closer cooperation with Eurosceptic Tories. He said he would not want Ukip to stand against Brexit MPs if there were an election this autumn.

Looking back at the EU referendum, he said Ukip was instrumental in getting David Cameron to hold the poll and in winning the result for the leave campaign.

He caused intense controversy during the referendum campaign by unveiling a poster of a queue of migrants with the slogan “breaking point”, which some senior Tory and Labour politicians said had echoes of Nazi propaganda. But Farage was unrepentant about the campaign and insisted Ukip’s best days may be yet to come.

Part of Ukip’s role in future would be to stop “weakness or appeasement from the British government” when it came to negotiating Brexit, he said.

“I am fully behind the party. Let’s see where we are in two and a half years’ time,” he said. “But I don’t need to be leader of Ukip. I will be part of the 2020 campaign if we don’t get what we want. I am not a career politician. I came into this business because I wanted my country back. We’ve got our country back. If the terms aren’t right, I will do whatever I can to help people to make it right.”

Ukip’s Steven Woolfe (left) and Paul Nuttall celebrating the EU referendum result
Ukip’s Steven Woolfe (left) and Paul Nuttall celebrating the EU referendum result. Both will be seen as candidates to replace Nigel Farage as party leader. Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters

Farage gave a short speech about how Brexit should be carried out and what the future held for Ukip before revealing he was standing down.

“I have decided to stand aside as leader of Ukip,” he said. “The victory for the leave side in the referendum means that my political ambition has been achieved. I came into this struggle from business because I wanted us to be a self-governing nation, not to become a career politician.

“Ukip is in a good position and will continue, with my full support to attract a significant vote. Whilst we will now leave the European Union, the terms of our withdrawal are unclear. If there is too much backsliding by the government and with the Labour party detached from many of its voters then Ukip’s best days may be yet to come.”

Answering questions from reporters, Farage said he and other Ukip MEPs would remain in the European parliament until the UK withdrew from the EU and the roles no longer existed, something he hoped would happen within two years. He added: “The Ukippers will have been the turkeys who voted for Christmas.”

A Ukip national executive committee meeting was held on Monday to set out the rules for selecting a new leader. Party members need 10 nominations from the party’s 42,000 members in order to stand. Hustings will be held in early August, followed by a postal vote of members. A new leader should be in place by mid-September’s party conference.


Rowena Mason, Robert Booth and Amelia Gentleman

The GuardianTramp

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