Steven Woolfe collapse: Ukip's Mike Hookem calls clash 'handbags at dawn'

MEP breaks his silence to say no punches were thrown and any injuries sustained by Woolfe ‘did not come from me’

The Ukip MEP involved in an altercation with Steven Woolfe that led to the latter being admitted to hospital for two days has described their clash as a “slight scuffle” instigated by Woolfe, in which no punches were thrown.

Speaking for the first time since Woolfe collapsed after the incident at the European parliament in Strasbourg on Thursday, Mike Hookem said he did not see his fellow MEP strike his head after a skirmish he called “handbags at dawn”, saying he was shocked to learn that he was taken to hospital.

“Any injuries Steven Woolfe had, which caused whatever medical problems he’s got, did not come from me, from my hand,” Hookem told BBC Radio Humberside on Friday. “I did not injure him. I did not throw a punch at him. I did not cause those injuries.”

Both Ukip’s interim leader, Nigel Farage, and Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, announced on Thursday they would hold investigations into what happened.

The incident appeared to have hampered Woolfe’s chances of being elected leader, with two of his fellow MEPs saying the incident indicated he should not now be considered for the job.

Jonathan Arnott said the fracas placed a cloud over both Woolfe and Hookem: “Surely they can’t now consider that either of them could stand in a leadership contest.”

Gerard Batten said he was disappointed Woolfe had left the meeting rather than answer questions over his flirtation with the Conservatives: “A Ukip MEP who is prepared to even discuss defection to another party is not fit to run as leader of Ukip.”

Describing Thursday’s incident, Hookem said a meeting of Ukip MEPs had become heated when Woolfe, a contender to replace Diane James as party leader, was asked about his admission he had considered defecting to the Conservatives.

Hookem said Woolfe had tried to turn the subject around to his exclusion from the last Ukip leadership race after he filed nomination papers 17 minutes late, and to complain this had been unfair.

“I then said, ‘No, I’m sorry, you were to blame – you never got your paperwork in. You had 20 days to do it, you never did it,’” Hookem said. Woolfe “took exception” to this comment, he explained.

Hookem continued: “He then stood up, in front of everybody, and said across the room to me, ‘Well, if it’s that, then let’s take it outside of the room, mano a mano.’ As he’s leaving the room he’s taking his jacket off to go outside.”

Hookem said the pair went into a small anteroom off the meeting venue, using different doors: “When I walked in, he approached me to attack me. He came at me, I defended myself. There was no punches thrown, there was no face slapping, there was nothing. It was, as people in Hull would term it, handbags at dawn, a bit of a scuffle.”

Hookem said that when the door from which Woolfe had entered opened again, Woolfe fell back into the meeting room, and on to another MEP. Hookem said he was not holding him at the time.

Hookem said: “It was two people grappling, that had hold of each other, and were basically still stood up but wrestling. Then I released him, when the door opened.”

Woolfe was helped up by his fellow MEPs and appeared fine, Hookem said: “There was no indication of him hitting his head on metal, windows or anything else. He fell back on to an MEP.

“Once he’d stood up he said, ‘All I’d wanted to do was to go outside to discuss it with you.’ But one of my other colleagues said, ‘No, I’m sorry Steven, you said let’s go out mano a mano, and was taking your jacket off at the same time.’ That MEP backed me up on what happened.”

Woolfe told the Daily Mail that after he and Hookem left the meeting room his colleague “came at me and landed a blow” and he then banged into a door frame. Two hours after the meeting, Woolfe collapsed and was taken to hospital, where he had a brain scan.

Woolfe, who will remain in hospital until Sunday as a precaution, has since said he has “reached out the hand of friendship” to Hookem.

Another MEP for the party, Nathan Gill, told journalists that Woolfe’s health was not in danger. “He is sick of croissants and looking forward to a full English breakfast,” Gill told journalists outside the hospital in Strasbourg, after visiting his colleague.

Hookem said he had received an email from Woolfe, and had replied and agreed to meet “to clear the air, and to sort things out. And maybe shake his hand, if he wants to shake my hand.”

Gill told reporters it was too early to say whether Wolfe would still be a candidate to lead the party, which has been thrown into chaos since the shock resignation of James after only 18 days in the job. He insisted the affair would not damage Ukip, because “we are a little bit Teflon-coated”.

Schulz has announced an urgent inquiry into the incident, in part to see if it had breached the code of conduct for MEPs. “The reported facts are extremely serious,” the president of the European parliament said. “It goes without saying that disrespectful and violent behaviour does not have a place in the European parliament.”

An advisory committee, comprising five MEPs, will meet next Wednesday. If Woolfe or Hookem are found to have broken the parliament’s code of conduct, they could lose up to 10 days of allowances, totalling €4,000 (£3,600), or be stripped of their voting rights for the same period.

The party’s chairman, Paul Oakden, who is leading the Ukip investigation into the affair, said there appeared to be no independent witnesses to the actual scuffle.

“I have spoken to people who were there and everything I am being told at the moment would suggest that there were no witnesses. That is going to present a problem,” he told BBC Breakfast on Friday.

“I hope that we don’t end up in a situation where we just have two members here disagreeing on the facts but with nobody else able to corroborate either. What I am hopeful of is that we have two members who accept that something happened yesterday that was unfortunate, regrettable, and they, as we all do, will want to move on from it and focus on electing our new leader.”

In a statement, Farage confirmed he had asked Oakden and the party secretary to conduct an investigation “from which the truth will be discovered”. “All other claims being made in the media by representatives of Ukip who were not even there at the time are extremely unhelpful,” he said.


Jennifer Rankin in Strasbourg and Peter Walker

The GuardianTramp

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