Woolfe Quits UKIP, Saying Party Ungovernable Without FarageBy
Migration spokesman pulls out of contest to replace James
Previous leader had been in office for less than three weeks
Stephen Woolfe, the U.K. Independence Party member of the European Parliament who was involved in an altercation with a fellow lawmaker earlier this month, pulled out of the contest to replace Diane James as leader and said he’s quitting the party.
Woolfe’s announcement came just minutes after UKIP said it intends to have a new leader in position by the end of November. James, who replaced UKIP’s longstanding figurehead Nigel Farage, resigned at the start of October after just 18 days in the job.
“I believe that a strong UKIP would hold this government’s feet to the fire and make sure it delivers a clean Brexit,” Woolfe said in a statement Monday. “However, I have come to the conclusion that UKIP is ungovernable without Nigel Farage leading it and the referendum cause to unite it.”
The future direction of UKIP has been in doubt since Farage stepped down in the wake of the Brexit referendum, when the party achieved its primary aim of securing a British withdrawal from the European Union. It needs to fill its void at the top to boost its chances of competing with the main opposition Labour Party for working-class voters, but the latest dramatic turn of events casts further doubt on its long-term viability.
"Woolfe’s departure is a further blow to UKIP,” Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent, said in an interview. “The party has lost yet another prominent activist. Its future has never before looked so uncertain.”
Woolfe, UKIP’s migration spokesman, had been among the bookmaker’s favorites for the leadership. He was hospitalized after collapsing at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Oct. 6 following a confrontation with the defense spokesman, Mike Hookem. Woolfe reiterated an allegation Monday that he was struck by his fellow lawmaker, an accusation Hookem has rejected.
Woolfe said that after being treated for two seizures and partial paralysis, he’d spent some time considering his future. He’d previously said after James stepped down on Oct. 4 that he intended to run for the leadership. He was left off the list of candidates for the previous election after missing the nominations deadline, blaming “technical problems” on UKIP’s website.
“The party is riddled with infighting, proxy wars between rival camps,” Woolfe said, accusing UKIP’s National Executive Committee of being “not fit for purpose.” He said he intends to sit as an independent lawmaker in the European Parliament.
James, another European Parliament member who won the first election to replace Farage, stepped down citing “personal and professional reasons” and saying that since her election it had “become clear that I do not have the sufficient authority, nor the full support” of UKIP lawmakers and party officials.
Woolfe’s announcement came less than a half-hour after the party’s executive committee said nominations for the leadership will close on Oct. 31, with debates among the candidates taking place in the first two weeks of November. Ballot papers will be sent out to members starting Nov. 11, with the result announced Nov. 28.
Another leadership contender and former adviser to Farage, Raheem Kassam, issued a statement saying he sympathizes with Woolfe’s “feeling that he has been effectively pushed out” and that some in the party “should hang their heads in shame.”
— With assistance by Robert Hutton