Crisis-hit UKIP removes latest leader

Sunday, February 18, 2018

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LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — Members of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) voted yesterday to remove their leader Henry Bolton following a scandal over his private life, plunging the anti-EU, anti-immigration group into fresh crisis.

The party, which played a key role in Britain's referendum vote to leave the European Union, is now facing its fourth leadership election in 18 months.

Bolton had earlier warned the turmoil ahead could now break the party, saying: “I think it's going to be very difficult for the party to survive.”

The former army officer was only elected in September, but faced a vote of no-confidence by UKIP's ruling national executive committee last month.

The challenge came after he left his wife and began an affair with a young UKIP activist, who was subsequently exposed for sending racist messages about Prince Harry's fiancée Meghan Markle.

At an extraordinary general meeting in the central English city of Birmingham, activists voted by 867 to 500 to endorse the no-confidence motion.

“Henry Bolton has been removed by the democratic decision of the membership,” outgoing chairman Paul Oakden told the audience, to cheers from the floor.

Under the former leadership of Nigel Farage, UKIP helped drive the vote for Brexit, but has since been dogged by infighting, financial woes and falling public support.

Bolton was the third elected leader since Farage stepped down, and had vowed major reform of the party.

However, he risked derision ahead of the vote by comparing the scrutiny over his private life to that of Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi al-Fayed, in the weeks before they died in a Paris car crash in 1997.

“I understand the scrutiny and public interest but it's been going on for six weeks. There's probably been nothing like that since the Profumo affair or Diana and Dodi,” he told Sky News television.

John Profumo was forced to resign as war minister in 1963 after having an affair with a woman who was also involved with a Russian diplomat, in a scandal that almost brought down the Government.

Bolton has ended the relationship with his girlfriend but the affair prompted a string of senior UKIP politicians to resign over his leadership, warning the situation had become “almost farcical”.

UKIP won significant public support for its euro-sceptic stance in the years running up to the EU referendum, but the Brexit vote left it struggling to find a role.

It has also been dogged by financial problems.

This week a court ruled the party was liable for some costs in a defamation case against one of its members of the European Parliament.

A new leadership election must be held within 90 days.

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