Ukip has descended into farce after a meeting to resolve its leadership crisis ended with a reported fist-fight and the favourite to take the party’s helm needing urgent hospital treatment to a head injury.
Shocking pictures emerged showing MEP Steven Woolfe collapsed on the floor in the middle of the European Parliament building in Strasbourg shortly after the incident.
At the time, interim leader Nigel Farage said his condition was “serious” with another party figure claiming it was even “life-threatening”.
But high-profile immigration spokesman Mr Woolfe, who only 24 hours earlier had put his name forward to lead the party, later released a statement from his hospital bed saying he was recovering and being kept in overnight as a precaution.
The incident comes just days after Diane James said she would not take up the leadership, despite having been declared the winner of a contest just 18 days earlier.
Ukip MEPs, including Mr Farage, Mr Woolfe and defence spokesman Mike Hookem had attended the party meeting to discuss the leadership crisis, following Ms James’s unexpected departure.
But the exchange at the meeting went beyond the usual political to and fro. A statement Mr Woolfe had recently released in which he admitted considering defecting to the Tories had reportedly annoyed some other party figures.
As the discussion became more heated, sources said Mr Woolfe took his jacket off and suggested he and ex-commando Mr Hookem go outside.
In the ensuing tussle Mr Woolfe was reported to have hit his head, but when the fight ended colleagues believed him to be alright before they went for a vote.
Later on, Mr Woolfe was seen collapsed on one of the building's internal bridges. He reportedly told the person who rushed over to assist him that he had “lost the feeling down one side of his body”.
Footage shot from the scene showed paramedics treating the politician before he was taken to hospital for a CT scan and tests.
Mr Farage released a statement saying: “I deeply regret that, following an altercation that took place at a meeting of Ukip MEPs this morning, Steven Woolfe subsequently collapsed and was taken to hospital. His condition is serious.”
Several hours later the former Ukip leader told reporters the incident didn't make Ukip “look good”, describing it as something seen in “Third World parliaments”.
Mr Farage said: “We’re talking about a dispute that finished up physically. It never looks good. It makes us look like – you see Third World parliaments where this sort of thing happens.
“It’s not good. It shouldn’t happen. It’s two grown men, getting involved in an altercation. It’s not very seemly behaviour.”
The former party leader urged he didn't want to play “the name game”, but said he had his suspicions as to who was responsible.
Prominent Ukip donor Arron Banks wished Mr Woolfe the best, but expressed his "utter disgust" at comments made by Welsh Ukip leader Neil Hamilton shortly after the incident, in which he suggested Mr Woolfe had “picked a fight and came off worst”.
Mr Banks went so far as to claim he would be "leaving Ukip" if Mr Hamilton remained in the party, describing him as part of a “small minority” of “Tory troublemakers and fifth columnists” who "undermine" the efforts of other members.
Meanwhile Ukip colleagues including Ms James, MP Douglas Carswell and Suzanne Evans, also thought to be a leadership hopeful, took to Twitter to offer their best wishes.
In the ensuing media frenzy, another leadership candidate, Raheem Kassam, said he had been told Mr Woolfe’s condition was “life-threatening”. But reports began to emerge that the politician had woken up and was talking.
Eventually Mr Woolfe released a statement from the hospital in Strasbourg, saying: “The CT scan has shown that there is no blood clot in the brain.
“At the moment I am feeling brighter, happier, and smiling as ever. As a precaution, I am being kept in overnight awaiting secondary tests to make sure everything in fine.
“I would like everyone to know that the parliamentary staff, the Ukip MEPs with me and hospital staff have been brilliant. Their care has been exceptional. I am sitting up, and said to be looking well. The only consequence at the moment is a bit of numbness on the left hand side of my face.”
Mr Woolfe, often described as Mr Farage’s chosen successor, played a prominent role in the party’s European Union referendum campaign and was viewed by many as an impressive media performer.
He had celebrated the referendum victory for the Leave campaign at Manchester town hall, where the official count was taking place, in the early hours of 24 June.
But his rapid ascent to the top of the Eurosceptic party’s ranks came to a sudden halt in August after he submitted his leadership application 17 minutes late. Ukip’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee, decided he was ineligible as a result and barred him from standing in the election.
At the time the barrister, who joined Ukip in 2010 before being elected as an MEP for North West England in 2014, said he was “extremely disappointed” and criticised the party’s executive for “confirming members’ fears that it is neither effective nor professional”.
But with Ms James’s resignation on Tuesday, Mr Woolfe had thrown his hat into the ring once more, having also won the backing of Mr Banks.
Mr Farage has launched an inquiry into the incident.
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