London, (AFP): Nigel Farage ruled out returning to lead Britain’s anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) on Wednesday after his successor unexpectedly stepped down just 18 days into the job.
Diane James’s resignation plunges Britain’s third biggest party into further disarray as it grapples with in-fighting and an existential crisis following the vote to leave the European Union.
Farage said he remains technically in charge of UKIP as the official papers recognising James’s election on September 16 had not yet been processed by the Electoral Commission.
But the 52-year-old MEP, the public face of UKIP and one of the leaders of the Brexit campaign, said he had no intention of returning to the post he held for most of the past decade.
“It is time for somebody else to do the job,” Farage told Sky News, adding that he would not return to permanently lead UKIP, “not for $10 million”.
He quit the leadership following the June 23 vote to leave the EU, saying his life’s ambition had been achieved, but his departure robbed UKIP of its one high-profile figure.
The election of the little-known James, a 56-year-old member of the European Parliament, and the fulfilment of the party’s primary objective led some to question its future.
UKIP won 12.6 percent of the vote in the 2015 election, making it the third largest in terms of votes cast, but it only has one member of parliament (MP) under Britain’s first-past-the-post system.
Party chairman Paul Oakden said James’s departure was “unfortunate” but said UKIP’s National Executive Committee would meet on October 17 to begin choosing her successor.
“We are not a party dominated by individuals. We have the ability to move on, to move forward,” he told Sky News.
“I would be surprised if we did not have a new leader in place by the end of November.”
– Lacking party’s support -James announced her resignation for “personal and professional reasons” late Tuesday, issuing a statement that laid bare the tensions within the party.
“It has become clear that I do not have sufficient authority, nor the full support of all my MEP colleagues and party officers to implement changes I believe necessary and upon which I based my campaign,” she said.
Oakden said James had had “a difficult couple of weeks”, saying she had been attacked at a railway station, an incident that reportedly involved her being spat at.
The Times newspaper said she was also reluctant to lead UKIP without assurances about the party’s funding, while other reports said her husband was ill.
“I didn’t believe this was something that she particularly wanted to do, or had the passion to do,” Lisa Duffy, the runner-up in the party leadership election, told BBC radio.
James only became favourite for the job after her main rival, Steven Woolfe, was dramatically ruled out of the contest after failing to submit his application in time.
Woolfe was supported by both Farage and Arron Banks, the party’s main financial backer, who called the decision to exclude him a “coup”.
They subsequently backed James.
The turmoil in UKIP comes the day after Prime Minister Theresa May’s ruling Conservatives made a pitch to the anti-EU party’s voters at their annual conference with promises to cut immigration following the Brexit vote.