Ukip leadership farce after Nigel Farage’s favourite lets membership lapse

Rules say any candidate must have been a party member for at least two years

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Indy Politics

The top brass from the UK Independence Party will meet on Sunday to grapple with the question of: when is a party member not a member? It matters because on it hangs the chances of the front-runner, Steven Woolfe, being the next Ukip leader.

The possibility that Mr Woolfe might be eliminated from the race has created panic among allies of the outgoing leader, Nigel Farage.

Ukip’s Deputy Treasurer, Peter Jewell, has sent an email to friends desperately seeking last minute nominations so that he can enter the leadership race if Mr Woolfe is barred. In an email sent out on Wednesday night, leaked to The Huffington Post, Mr Jewell pleaded: “Steven Woolfe it seems cannot stand for leader and we are in a panic. Nigel and others have asked me to stand and hold the fort for a while. I need 50 signatures tomorrow.”

His use of that phrase "hold the fort" invites speculation that Nigel Farage’s resignation, announced earlier this month, is only temporary. He resigned the leadership in 2009 and 2015, on neither occasion for very long. Mr Jewell could not be contacted for clarification.

Under party rules, any candidate in the contest to succeed Nigel Farage must have been a party member for at least two years. Mr Woolfe was a Ukip MEP and party spokesman on immigration during all that period, but documents – also leaked – show  that he allowed his individual party membership to lapse in December 2014, and renewed it only in March. A panel that is due to meet on Sunday, when nominations close, will have to decide whether that disqualifies him.

Despite its relatively small size, Ukip is deeply split between friends and foes of Mr Farage. The outgoing leader has had a public falling out with Ukip’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, who announced: "I'm totally neutral in Ukip leadership contest – and indeed rows. Disinterested and possibly uninterested."

Suzanne Evans, who led Ukip very briefly after Mr Farage resigned last year, has also fallen out with him, and is prevented from running because her party membership has been suspended. She is backing Lisa Duffy, leader of the Ukip group on Huntingdonshire District Council.

Mr Farage has not said publicly who he is backing, but his ally Aaron Banks, Ukip's main financial backer, has endorsed Mr Woolfe.

Two other Ukip MEPs, Jonathan Arnott and Bill Etheridge, are also in the running.