UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe, who was hospitalized after an altercation with a colleague in the European Parliament earlier this month, has quit the party, branding it “ungovernable” without Nigel Farage as leader and the EU referendum to unite its supporters.
Woolfe says he had to reconsider his ambitions to lead the party after the incident with fellow UKIP MEP Mike Hookem outside a parliament meeting in Strasbourg two weeks ago.
“There is something rotten at the heart of UKIP, rotten between its MEPs, who have an internecine warfare,” Woolfe said in a statement.
Woolfe had the backing of major UKIP donor Arron Banks and was the bookmakers’ favourite to take over the party after the resignation of Diane James, who briefly succeeded Farage. James lasted just 18 days in the job before quitting, claiming she did not have the full support of colleagues.
It is with deep sorrow & regret that I am announcing my resignation from UKIP with immediate effect. Full statement: https://t.co/IyjI4PRxKs
— Steven Woolfe MEP (@Steven_Woolfe) October 17, 2016
Woolfe says he will now sit as an independent in the European Parliament.
“The way I was treated by members of my own party during the summer’s leadership campaign and the events that have led up to [my resignation] have all contributed to me coming to this conclusion. The party is riddled with infighting, proxy wars between rival camps and is run by an NEC [national executive committee] that is not fit for purpose,” he said.
Woolfe has been under pressure to withdraw after the fracas in Strasbourg, which was triggered by the revelation he had been considering a defection to the Tories. The admission sparked fury among his colleagues.
Woolfe claims Hookem punched him outside a parliament meeting. Hookem denies the claim.
Woolfe spent several days in hospital following the incident. He says he has made a complaint about the clash and is now seeking legal advice.
Asked about his part in the altercation, Woolfe said: “I’m sorry that the language I may have used may have caused people to think that that was the intention to go out there and fight.”
He had asked Hookem to leave the meeting to settle the dispute “man to man” but insists he meant verbally, not physically.
The UKIP leadership contest is now wide open. However, there are serious doubts about the future of the party without Farage at the helm and whether Banks will continue to support the party following Woolfe’s departure.
Suzanne Evans, the former UKIP deputy chairwoman and party spokesperson, is now the bookies’ new favorite.
Raheem Kassam, Farage’s former chief of staff, Bill Etheridge, a Midlands MEP, and Peter Whittle, a London Assembly member, are also in the running. Paul Nuttall, a former deputy leader of the party, may also throw his hat into the ring.
MEP David Coburn has also said he is considering standing for the leadership after Woolfe’s decision to resign. He says UKIP must remain a radical party to ensure Tory Prime Minister Theresa May “walks the plank on Brexit.”
“We’re a libertarian party and when you take the lid off that, there’s a lot of excited people who jump up and down a bit,” Coburn told the BBC.
“We just need to get a grip of ourselves and sort ourselves out and I hope to be trying to do it myself.”
UKIP aims to have a new leader in place by the end of November.