Nigel Farage declares himself interim Ukip leader

Farage says Electoral Commission has confirmed he is technically back in charge following resignation of Diane James

Nigel Farage has declared himself the interim leader of Ukip following the resignation of Diane James after just 18 days in the post.

The MEP said he had spoken to the Electoral Commission, which confirmed he was technically still leader. He made the declaration amid rumours that Ukip’s ruling body could try to install Neil Hamilton, the former Tory politician and Ukip leader in Wales, as temporary leader.

Speaking on BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire show, Farage said he hoped that “horror show” would not come to pass as Hamilton was not good for the image of the party.

James stepped down saying she did not enjoy the support of MEPs or party officials for changes that needed to be carried out to Ukip’s national executive.

She was elected at Ukip’s party conference last month, but in a statement released on Tuesday night she said she would not formalise her leadership.

“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.”

However, Farage claimed she had a “personal problem” relating to the health of a family member and had been shaken by being spat at while at Waterloo station.

“As far as the party is concerned, it’s not a great day but it not the end of the world,” he said.

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; and confirmed that Farage himself believed he may “technically” still be leader – but had no intention of running in a new contest.

Farage told the Press Association that he would not return as Ukip leader “for $10m”. Asked if he’d take $20m, he replied: “No I’m not coming back. I’m retired.”

Earlier Paul Oakden, the Ukip chairman, when asked who was currently leader of the party, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In my mind it is Diane James; she has quit indeed, but that doesn’t mean she is not the leader until a new leader is appointed.”

But he said he would consult the Electoral Commission on Wednesday, adding: “If they still have Nigel Farage down as leader, that will make it a very interesting day for me, I suspect.”

Oakden said he had not spoken to James directly about her resignation, and insisted: “Both I and the NEC have been consistently supportive of Diane since she was elected as leader.” He added: “The job of being leader is often very difficult from the job of running to be leader.”

The Electoral Commission said Ukip submitted the paperwork notifying it of the change in leadership on Monday, although it had not been processed as officials had questions regarding the completion of the form.

“We are aware that the newly elected leader of Ukip has now stood down and are in touch with the party to confirm how they wish to proceed regarding updating their entry on the statutory register,” a spokesman said.

James, who was chosen by Ukip’s members after Farage stepped down in the wake of the Brexit vote, said she would continue as MEP for South East England.

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.

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 Lisa Duffy, who ran against James, also said she could participate.

Two other candidates who lost to James told the Guardian they would also consider standing again. Phillip Broughton, who fought the Hartlepool seat at the 2015 general election, said he would “rule nothing out”. Bill Etheridge, a West Midlands MEP, said he might step forward “if there is no other serious libertarian candidate”.

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 securing 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 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 the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, describing him as a strong leader who stood 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.


Heather Stewart and Rowena Mason

The GuardianTramp

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