The United Kingdom Independence Party today voted to remove its leader, Henry Bolton, who was elected to the position in September 2017, signaling more disarray for the pro-Brexit movement.
In a UKIP (or Ukip) extraordinary general meeting held in Birmingham, England, 63 percent of 1,378 members voting sent a message that Bolton had to go, the Guido Fawkes political blog reported. Gerald Batten was named interim leader pending an election for a permanent standard-bearer within 90 days under party rules.
On January 21, the party’s executive committee unanimously approved a vote of no confidence in Bolton, which triggered the general meeting under UKIP rules. The party is now faced with its fifth leadership election in about two years, which is troublesome since UKIP is said to be nearly broke.
“The anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) was an influential force in bringing about a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union in 2016, but has struggled to maintain its relevance since the country voted to leave the European Union,” Reuters explained.
Bolton got into hot water after racist text and/or Facebook messages sent by his new girlfriend Jo Marney, 25, about Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s bride to be, surfaced in the media. Meghan Markle, 36, the Los Angeles-born Suits actress, is scheduled to exchange vows with Prince Harry, who is fifth in line to the throne in the British royal family, in May.
The former military officer and policeman, 54, is separated from his wife, who lives in Austria with their two young children. Marney has since apologized for the messages, but she has reportedly been suspended from UKIP. Although Bolton implied last month that he had broken up with Marney over the scandal, their relationship status is somewhat ambiguous.
To say the least, UKIP has fallen on hard times since its charismatic leader Nigel Farage stepped down after the successful Brexit referendum and intra-party volatility followed. For example, Farage’s initial successor Diane James quit after just 18 days. UKIP, which received 4 million votes in the 2015 national election and appeared to be on the rise, saw its vote total drop to just 600,000 in the 2017 snap election, after which then-leader Paul Nuttall resigned.
“UKIP’s success [in the 2015 election] was a factor in influencing then-Prime Minister David Cameron to hold the Brexit referendum,” Reuters recalled.
While described by some media outlets as a right-wing party, UKIP traditionally appeals to disaffected Labor voters on the center-left and Conservatives on the center-right, although UKIP has lost a significant amount of its market share at the national and local levels. Several high-profile UKIP elected officials, such as Steven Woolfe, and various lower-level lawmakers have switched parties or gone independent in the past few years amidst various controversies. UKIP holds no seats in the British parliament, the House of Commons, and has suffered many losses in local elections in the last few years, along with rank-and-file members quitting the party.
Because of the U.K.’s somewhat convoluted electoral process, it is challenging for a third party to gain traction even under the best of circumstances.
Considered the architect of Brexit, Nigel Farage is still a member of the European Parliament as well as a radio talk show host and political pundit on both the U.K. and American television circuit. Rumors have circulated that Farage is considering starting a new populist party, or a UKIP 2.0, if UKIP as currently constituted can’t be salvaged, because of the importance of making sure Britain leaves the EU under favorable terms. The post-Brexit divorce negotiations are currently underway between officials from Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government and EU counterparts.
With Bolton sacked, there is now some buzz that Farage may take back the reins of UKIP, however, the Guardian reported.
“Speculation is now mounting over whether Farage will return to the fray. Suzanne Evans, a senior Ukip figure, told the Press Association that it was crunch time for the party and that Farage should return to lead it.”
Before the vote, Farage admitted that UKIP is collapsing, but urged the party to retain Bolton as a leader, the Daily Mail reported.
“I believe it would be better to allow Mr Bolton, with all his faults, the chance to turn Ukip into an electoral machine again. The alternative is for the party to carry on down the path of self-destruction into irrelevance. It may be too late to save Ukip, but you never know.”
Henry Bolton himself even hinted that he may run for the party’s leadership again, Reuters noted, but as a practical matter, that’s probably a non-starter.
As the UKIP leadership scenario with or without Henry Bolton constitutes a fast-moving developing story, please check back for updates.
Updates: Nigel Farage has ruled out running for UKIP leader, and Henry Bolton has resigned from the party.
Henry Bolton and Jo Marney gave this joint interview on the British television show This Morning.