Ukip is facing a “fight for survival” after popular leadership hopeful Steven Woolfe was excluded from the race to replace Nigel Farage, it has been claimed.
Three members of the party’s ruling board immediately resigned in protest, claiming the migration spokesman had been deliberately blocked from standing on a technicality.
Mr Woolfe said he was “extremely disappointed” by the move and branded the national executive committee (NEC) as “not fit for purpose”.
The decision plunged the right-wing party into a fresh round of bitter in-fighting and fuelled claims that it would lead to a split.
Supporters claimed that Mr Woolfe had been the victim of a coup that was led by Ukip’s only MP, Tory defector Douglas Carswell, and Neil Hamilton, group leader in the Welsh Assembly.
The MEP had been the favourite to take the top job but was 17 minutes late submitting his nomination papers, blaming technical difficulties for the delay.
Members of the NEC said that meant his application was “ineligible” and voted to block his candidacy by a “clear majority”.
“I am extremely disappointed by the Ukip NEC decision to exclude me from the party’s leadership election,” Mr Woolfe said.
“Over the course of this leadership election, the NEC has proven it is not fit for purpose and it confirmed many members’ fears that it is neither effective nor professional in the way it governs the party.”
Michael McGough, Victoria Ayling, and MEP Raymond Finch announced that they were quitting the NEC over what they called the “deliberate obstruction” of Mr Woolfe’s nomination.
Mr McGough said that the party “could be finished”.
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