Diane James has quit as Ukip leader after just 18 days in the job, saying she had enjoyed the support of members but not party colleagues.
In a sign of the turmoil that has engulfed Ukip since her predecessor Nigel Farage resigned, she said: “It has become clear I do not have sufficient authority, nor the full support of MEP colleagues and party officers to implement the changes I believe are necessary and upon which I based my campaign.”
Citing both personal and professional reasons for quitting, she also said she would continue as MEP for South East England.
She tweeted the statement along with a message of thanks to all supporters who attended her leadership speeches over the summer.
A party source said James was also unhappy about having been spat at in an incident at Waterloo station in London.
James said she had not yet formalised her nomination as leader, meaning that she had never formally taken over from her predecessor, Nigel Farage, following her landslide election on 16 September. However, one Ukip figure queried James’s suggestion that registration with the Electoral Commission was necessary in order to make her leadership official, insisting that she had not been nominated as leader, but elected.
A Ukip source said James had filled in an official form to take over control of the party and added the words “under duress” in Latin.
Discussions are taking place within the party about holding a snap two-week election to install a new leader quickly, with former deputy Paul Nuttall and disqualified former candidate Steven Woolfe two possible candidates.
Raheem Kassam, the former chief of staff to Farage who left after the election, has confirmed he will run for the leadership.
However, Farage told the Press Association that he would not return as Ukip leader “for $10 million”. Asked if he’d take $20m, he replied: “No I’m not coming back, I’m retired”.
Suzanne Evans, the former deputy chair who clashed with Farage, could also try again after she missed out because she was suspended at the time of the last contest, while another former candidate, Bill Etheridge, said he would not rule out standing again.
Ukip chairman Paul Oakden said: “It is with regret that I have tonight received confirmation that Diane James has chosen to resign as party leader, citing personal and other reasons. I will now look to convene an emergency meeting of our National Executive Committee to confirm the process for electing Diane’s replacement.
“Whilst the decision is unfortunate, it is one that Diane is entitled to make. We thank her for all her work as leader, and as a hard working MEP, a role she will continue with her customary vigour.”
Lisa Duffy, the leadership candidate who came second behind James, said she was “not overly surprised but very disappointed for our members.”
Duffy, a councillor in Cambridgeshire, said she had had no contact from James in the last 18 days. “Knowing Diane for the past three years I didn’t think this was something she wanted to do or had the passion to do,” she told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme.
“She entered at the last minute, didn’t engage in the process and I’m afraid over the last 18 days we haven’t had any leadership from her.”
Duffy, who said she would consult friends on family on whether to stand again, said it was not impossible Farage would return. “Nothing is impossible and I’m not going to speculate on behalf of Nigel. I’d be surprised if he does.”James was elected at Ukip’s annual conference only last month after Nigel Farage stood down saying he had “done his bit” for Brexit.
An MEP for South East England since 2014, 56-year-old James was the Eurosceptic party’s first female leader and won the post by a wide margin after winning the backing of senior Ukip figures including Farage.
In her acceptance speech, she promised to bring a new professionalism to the party, saying: “We are going to confound our critics, we are going to outwit our opponents, we are going to build on our election success that we have achieved to date and do more.”
But questions were raised about her commitment to the post after she declined to take part in hustings debates around the country with rival candidates.
After a career in the healthcare sector, she was first elected to Waverley borough council in Surrey as an independent in 2007 after becoming “disillusioned” with the Conservatives.
She switched to Ukip in 2011 and shot to national prominence in 2013 when she fought the parliamentary byelection in Eastleigh, Hampshire, which was triggered by the downfall of cabinet minister Chris Huhne, who was jailed for lying about a speeding offence. She came close to taking the seat from the Liberal Democrats, coming second with 27.8% – fewer than 2,000 votes behind the winning candidate.
James raised some eyebrows in a 2015 interview when she declared her admiration for Russian president Vladimir Putin, describing him as “a strong leader” who stands up for his country.
Her elevation to the leadership of the party meant that Ukip joined the Conservatives, Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru in having a female politician at the helm, while the Greens have a woman as job-sharing co-leader.
Ukip’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, declined to comment on James’s resignation, saying in a tweet: