Ukip’s run of success came to an abrupt halt today, when the political group it had formed at the European Parliament collapsed in a fiasco that could cost the party £1m a year.
Under the EU parliament’s rules, groups must have 25 MEPs from at least seven countries to qualify for public funding. Nigel Farage is frantically trying to attract a replacement for Iveta Grigule, the only Latvian MEP in his Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFDD) group.
Ukip, whose 24 MEPs made up half of the now defunct group, blamed dirty tricks by the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the biggest in the Strasbourg parliament. It claimed that EPP leaders had told Ms Grigule she must resign from the EFDD in order to win the presidency of a Parliamentary delegation to Kazakstan.
Mr Farage said: “It is clear that the European Parliament does not follow its long-term practice of sharing delegation and chairmanship positions in a fair manner. I believe this is an example of political bias on an extraordinary scale.”
However, some Brussels insiders suggested that positive remarks about Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, by Mr Farage and other members of his group may have played a part in Ms Grigule’s decision, because they played badly in Latvia.
Other parties revelled in Ukip’s setback. A Conservative spokesman said: "This is further evidence that, as Nigel Farage himself has admitted, Ukip can't change a thing in Europe. They stand on the sidelines shouting but have no plan, no influence, and now have no group. It is only the Conservative Party that has a credible plan to reform the EU and then to give the British people a say on our membership, and it is only the Conservative Party that can deliver on this plan."
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
In pictures: The rise of Ukip
1/8 1993: Alan Sked forms Ukip
History professor Alan Sked had been active in anti-EU politics for a while beore he founded Ukip in 1993. He resigned from the party after the 1997 election, concerned that it was attracting far-right members, and has been critical of Ukip since. Picture: Reuters
2/8 2005: Kilroy defects
Former TV presenter Robert Kilroy-Silk founded Veritas in 2005, after a failed bid to become leader, and took many of Ukip's elected members with him. But the party slowly lost its popularity and didn't put forward any candidates in the last election. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty REUTERS KD/RUS
3/8 2010: Farage becomes leader, again
Farage had led Ukip from 2006 until 2009, when he stood down to fight against the Speaker, John Bercow, for his Buckingham seat. He failed to win the election and returned to lead the party in November 2010. Picture: REUTERS/Kieran Doherty
4/8 2010: Ukip fights for election
Nigel Farage was injured in a plane crash on polling day in the 2010 general election, but his party increased its success in the votes. It fielded 572 candidates and took 3.1% of the vote, though failed to win any seats. REUTERS/Darren Staples
5/8 2013: Eastleigh gains
Ukip's candidate Diane James got the highest ever number of votes for any candidate from the party, but was beaten by the Liberal Democrats. The surge in support gave Ukip confidence ahead of local and European elections later in the year. Picture: Reuters
6/8 2013: Bloom kicked out
Godfrey Bloom, who served as an Ukip MEP from 2004 to 2014, had the whip withdrawn in 2013 after sexist comments and an attack on a journalist. He sat as an independent MEP until 2014, when he ended his term in office. Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
7/8 2014: European election success
Ukip got a higher proportion of the vote than any other party in 2014's European elections, adding 11 new MEPs and taking its total to 24. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
8/8 2014: Carswell defects
Douglas Carswell defected from Ukip at the end of August, and was followed by Mark Reckless at the end of September, who resigned from the Tories amid rumours of many more defections to come. Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Glenis Willmott, leader of Labour’s MEPs, said: "While a massive blow to Nigel Farage, this news makes little difference for Britain. Ukip's group may have given Nigel Farage a front-seat soapbox from which he could preen for the cameras, but it has never helped advance British interests. The EFDD comprised people with extreme views, and to resurrect his group, Mr Farage will probably have to turn to even more racist, homophobic and antisemitic allies."
Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP, said the collapse of Ukip’s group was “the first defeat for Eurosceptics”. He added: “Radicals and populists are utterly divided. Good that EFDD is no longer playing an official role.”
Catherine Bearder, the one Liberal Democrat MEP, said: “It’s not surprising that Ukip has lost friends and alienated people in the European Parliament.”
Ukip has declined to join up with Marine Le Pen’s National Front to create a new far-right group in the Parliament. She may now revive plans for a “European Alliance for Freedom”, which failed to come to fruition after the European elections in May.Reuse content