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Explainer: Five months after the Brexit referendum, why is UKIP in chaos?

In its moment of triumph, infighting has plunged the party into turmoil.

Image: Ben Birchall PA Wire/PA Images

EVER SINCE ITS supposed day of triumph when Britain voted to leave the European Union, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) has been engulfed in chaos.

While a scandalous amount of controversies is no new territory for UKIP, the latest turmoil has originated more from relations within the party, rather than its members’ dealings with the public.

Beset with infighting, a lack of party leadership and, most recently, questioning over their funding, UKIP’s moment in the sun has turned sour very quickly.

So what has happened? Where has it gone wrong for UKIP?

Leadership Issues

For one, the party currently has no leader.

Former leader and MEP Diane James, who resigned from the job after only 18 days last month, left the party completely this week.

James announced her decision to quit UKIP and stand as an independent within the European Parliament, citing continued problems with fellow party politicians.

“In recent weeks, my relationship with the party has been increasingly difficult and I feel it is now time to move on. I wish the party well for the future under new leadership,” she said in a statement.

Diane James resignation Diane James celebrating her election to leader of UKIP with Nigel Farage Source: Ben Birchall PA Wire/PA Images

James reiterated on Monday that her quitting the leadership came after finding she “had no support within the executive and thus no ability to carry forward the policies on which I had campaigned”.

Her resignation from the party itself was criticised as “yet another act of irrational selfishness” by interim leader Nigel Farage, who said she was no longer fit to sit as an MEP.

While James’ departure prompted speculation that Farage could become leader again, the UKIP stalwart has ruled this out.

Farage stepped down as leader of the party for the third time in July, following the UK’s vote to leave the EU. He said that after achieving this great ambition, he wanted his “life back”.

France EU Farage has ruled out becoming party leader again Source: Jean-Francois Badias AP/PA images

“Not for ten million dollars,” he told the Press Association, when asked if he would become leader again.

He is currently serving as interim leader of the party.

A new leader is due to be announced on 28 November with four candidates hoping to take over.

Out of the race

Controversy had surrounded James’ own leadership election, as several rivals, including Steven Woolfe (more on him later), were expelled from the race.

Woolfe was controversially barred from the leadership battle that James won for submitting his application 17 minutes late. He blamed computer problems for the delay.

Speaking following the decision in August, Woolfe said he was “extremely disappointed” and branded its National Executive Committee (NEC) “not fit for purpose”.

UKIP’s NEC, which professes to contain grassroots activitists rather than “party elites”, said that Woolfe’s application was rejected on “legal advice” and that Woolfe had taken himself off the ballot paper by submitting it late.

Also expelled from competing in the original race were UKIP’s only MP Douglas Carswell and party spokesperson Suzanne Evans.

Evans was particularly irate, according to the Express, accusing the party’s NEC of “changing the rules as it goes along”. She said that she couldn’t imagine a decision “more ridiculous” or “more likely to bring UKIP into disrepute”.


The original favourite to replace James as UKIP leader, Steven Woolfe, quit the party last month.

He was involved in an altercation with fellow UKIP MEP, Mike Hookem, in Strasbourg after which Woolfe collapsed and required treatment in a local hospital.

Steven Woolfe injured Woolfe (left) and Hookem (right) were said to have been involved in the altercation Source: Gareth Fuller/PA

A spokesperson for Hookem insisted that the altercation was “verbal only”, and denied that Hookem had punched Woolfe.

Woolfe, on the other hand, insists that a medical examination showed that he had received injuries which support his claim of being attacked.

itv news Woolfe collapsed on a gantry after the 'altercation' with Mike Hookem Source: ITV News

Woolfe said that he would continue to sit as an independent MEP once his “recovery is complete” and that he was “seeking legal advice” about the incident.

Misspent funds

Yesterday, Britain’s Electoral Commission opened an investigation into whether UKIP used EU money for its Brexit campaign in breach of party funding rules.

The probe follows a European Parliament audit on Monday which said UKIP will have to renounce hundreds of thousands of euro of EU funding after misspending part of the grants on campaigning in Britain.

“The commission has now opened its own investigation into UKIP to look at whether there has been any breach of UK election law,” the Electoral Commission said in a statement.

“This includes whether any impermissible donations have been accepted by the party,” it said.

The European Parliament audit on Monday found that a number of invoices from the European political party Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE) – to which UKIP belongs – “were not in line with the rules governing grants to parties and foundations”.

“The ADDE will now not receive the remaining 20% of the grant (€248,345) allocated for 2015 and will need to reimburse a sum of €172,654 from the 80% of the grant which was advanced to the party,” it said.

The breaches related to nine opinion polls held in Britain ahead of the 2015 general election – including one on anti-EU sentiment – as well as ahead of the EU membership referendum in June.

The Trump/Farage bromance

Farage seems to have identified a kindred spirit in Donald Trump. He supported the President-elect’s campaign, and even spoke at a rally in Jackson, Mississippi.

Both Farage and Trump drew parallels between the Brexit vote and the US election.

Farage told the crowd: “Folks the message is there. The parallels are there… There are millions of ordinary Americans who have been let down; who have had a bad time; who feel the political class in Washington are detatched from them; who feel so many of their representatives are politically correct parts of the liberal media elite.”

Trump, meanwhile, tweeted a few days prior that he would soon be called Mr. Brexit.

Farage visited Trump after the election, where the pair were photographed together looking jubilant.

Farage Trump Source: Nigel Farage via Facebook

This week, Trump said that “many people would like to see Farage” become the UK’s Ambassador to the United States. This intervention is unusual, as ambassadors are appointed by the governments they represent, not by the administration of the country in which they serve.

The BBC’s North America editor, Jon Sopel, called it “extraordinary” and a “breach of nearly every rule of diplomatic protocol”.

Farage appears keen to remain on the UKIP back seat, not retake his role as leader, and focus on wider issues, particularly transatlantic ones.

Writing on the American right-wing site Breitbart News, Farage said: “I would do anything to help our national interest and to help cement ties with the upcoming Anglophile administration.”

With chaos at home, Farage is looking outward.

With reporting © – AFP, 2016

Read: That’s a scandalous amount of controversies for just one party, UKIP

Read: ‘Come and schmooze Theresa, don’t touch her’: Nigel Farage’s advice to Trump

About the author:

Sean Murray

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