Nigel Farage has stepped down as the leader of Ukip following last month’s vote to leave the European Union, saying he had achieved the aim for which he went into politics.
Mr Farage, 52, has had two stints as leader of the Eurosceptic party since 2006, and announced he was quitting the post after failing to win a Commons seat in the 2015 general election, only to change his mind days later.
This time he said he would not go back on the decision. However, he will continue as an MEP and indicated he hoped to play a role in the process of negotiating the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
He said he would guard against any “appeasement” or “backsliding” by ministers implementing the result of the Brexit vote.
In a speech in London, Mr Farage said: “During the referendum campaign, I said I want my country back. What I’m saying today is I want my life back, and it begins right now.”
When questioned about his previous decision to stand down, he said: “I won’t change my mind again. I can promise you.”
After a string of failed attempts to get into the Commons, he said standing in 2020 was “not on my bucket list”.
However, asked about the prospect of a return to the frontline if there was not a satisfactory Brexit deal by the time of the next general election, he said: “Let’s see where we are in two-and-a- half-years’ time. I don’t need to be leader of Ukip, I can be part of that 2020 campaign if we don’t get what we want.”
Mr Farage acknowledged that the decision to quit had not been an easy one.
“I do feel a degree of part-ownership of the Ukip brand and the journey we’ve been on. Letting go of that is not an easy thing to do but I think right now it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
The new leader will be in place by Ukip’s conference in September but Mr Farage said he would keep very quiet about his potential successor.
Douglas Carswell, the party’s only MP, has been locked in a bitter feud with Mr Farage but ruled himself out of a leadership bid. “The chances of me standing to be Ukip leader are somewhere between nil and zero,” he told the BBC’s Daily Politics.
However, Ukip’s deputy leader Paul Nuttall indicated he was taking soundings with fellow MEPs and the party’s national executive committee about a bid to replace Mr Farage.
The North West England MEP would boost the party’s chances of taking votes from Labour, something Mr Farage identified as key to Ukip’s future.
Mr Farage said if there was a failure to deliver a Brexit deal that met the promises offered during the campaign then “Ukip’s best days have yet to come” with the prospect of major gains in 2020.
He said the next prime minister should be a Brexit-backer but “I’m not going to damn any one of them by offering my support”.
He said that he would keep up the pressure in Brussels as a member of the European Parliament.
“There will be a strong Ukip voice in that parliament during the negotiations.
“If we see significant backsliding or weakness or, frankly, appeasement from the British government, we will certainly say so.”
He indicated he would like Ukip to be represented in the negotiations with Brussels and highlighted his own experience for the job.
“I have no idea whether they want to ask me or anybody else in Ukip to be part of this. But we do actually as a party have some good knowledge of how Brussels works and we have got some pretty senior business figures amongst our supporters.”
He added: “I’m not putting myself forward. I did spend 20 years in business and I have spent a lot of time in Brussels, I might have something to give if they want it. If they don’t, that’s fine.”
Suzanne Evans, the party’s former deputy chairman, has been tipped for the leadership but fell out with Mr Farage and is suspended after speaking out against a Ukip candidate over allegations of homophobia.
She told BBC Radio 4’s World At One that it was “nigh on impossible” for her to stand because of the suspension.
“I challenged homophobia in the party and as a result that was seen as somehow disloyal, something that still completely mystifies me, but we are where we are,” she said.
PROFILE: Nigel Farage - A divisive and successful politician
Nigel Farage leaves the national stage as one of the most divisive and successful politicians of modern times.
Accused of stooping to racist imagery with the infamous “Breaking Point” poster depicting streams of refugees fleeing to the EU, Mr Farage saw his decades-long campaign for Britain to quit the grip of Brussels triumph in the narrow 52% to 48% victory for the Leave side in the referendum.
After facing down numerous challenges to unseat him, Mr Farage, 52, has now decided to step aside as party leader. Opponents within the party had been keen to see him relinquish the Ukip reins so it could shake off its image as a one-man band.
The departure of a polarising leader also makes it easier for the party to target Labour heartlands it now sees as vulnerable, according to strategists. This new electoral drive was signalled in Mr Farage’s surprise announcement: “I have decided to stand aside as leader of Ukip. The victory for the Leave side in the referendum means that my political ambition has been achieved.
“Whilst we will now leave the European Union, the terms of our withdrawal are unclear. If there is too much backsliding by the Government, and with the Labour Party detached from many of its voters, then Ukip’s best days may be yet to come.”
The once lone voice for Brexit who ended up speaking for a majority of the nation hinted he was now weary of the constant warfare of frontline politics, stating: “I want my life back, and it begins right now.”
That will be good news to party critics who were dismayed when he announced he was standing down after last year’s general election, only to change his mind.
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