Steven Woolfe, the front-runner to succeed Nigel Farage as Ukip leader, has been knocked out of the party’s leadership election by its ruling body.
Mr Woolfe, the party’s immigration spokesman and an MEP who was seen as Mr Farage’s chosen successor, submitted his application 17 minutes late. Ukip’s national executive committee (NEC) ruled that he was ineligible as a result and barred him from standing in the election.
But three members of the NEC immediately resigned in protest at the controversial decision. Mr Farage, who quit after helping to secure the Brexit vote in the June referendum, is not endorsing any candidate but may call an emergency meeting of the party’s members to try to ensure that Mr Woolfe is nominated.
Mr Woolfe said he was “extremely disappointed”. He added: “Over the course of this leadership election, the NEC has proven it is not fit for purpose and it confirmed many member’s fears that it is neither effective nor professional in the way it governs the party. They have failed to accept that there were serious issues with the application system despite providing evidence that attempts of submission were made before the deadline. The NEC deny this is the fault of the UKIP system. Furthermore, highly confidential information about me held in party documents has been leaked to the press and the NEC has not sought to investigate this gross breach of privacy.”
Mr Woolfe also has the backing of the millionaire buisinessman Arron Banks, who funded the Leave.EU campaign in the referendum. Mr Banks accused Douglas Carswell, the patyy’s only MP, and Neil Hamilton, Ukip group leader in the Welsh Assembly, of orchestrating moves to block the candidacy ahead of the NEC’s meeting yesterday.Mr Banks tweeted that the "decision to exclude a Woolfe is the final straw - it's effectively a Hamilton/ Carswell coup".
The three NEC members who quit in protest at Mr Woolfe’s exclusion accused their fellow members of “escalating megalomania.” Mick McGough, one of the three, warned that Ukip faced a “fight for survival.” He said: “If we don’t have a competent leader who is comfortable with the media, the party could be finished. It is life or death now.”
Mr McGough blamed a “disaffected” faction including Ms Evans and Mr Carswell for the NEC decision and admitted there was “bitter feuding” inside the party. He said moves might be afoot to abolish the NEC at an emergency meeting.
Mr Carswell said the suggestion he was involved in a coup was wrong.
The new favourite will be Diane James, an MEP and Ukip’s deputy chair, who entered the race at the last minute. She is also a close ally of Mr Farage, who gave her a high profile in the referendum campaign.
Her main challenger may be Lisa Duffy, a councillor in Ramsey who has the backing of some of Mr Farage’s internal critics. Setting out her platform, she said: I will be calling for the Government to close British Islamic faith schools/. That doesn't mean I am picking on British Islam, but if you think about what our security services are looking at, 2,000 individuals that have come from those faith schools. When does indoctrination start?"
The other names on the shortlist are the MEPs Bill Etheridge and Jonathan Arnott; and grassroots members Elizabeth Jones and Phillip Broughton. Adam Richardson, the returning officer for the Ukip election, said: “By a clear majority of NEC members, Steven Woolfe MEP’s application was considered to be ineligible as a result of a late submission and as such he did not meet the eligibility criteria. His membership of the party was not in question.”
Mr Farage has been accused of squeezing critics out of the election to choose his successor, including Suzanne Evans, who was suspended after speaking out against him. She is backing Ms Duffy.
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