UKIP’S south east member of the European Parliament Ray Finch has stepped down from the party’s national executive committee in a row over the selection of the party’s new leader.
Mr Finch, who also represents Bedhampton and Leigh Park on Hampshire County Council, resigned yesterday along with Victoria Ayling and Michael McGough.
He worked very hard and helped get the party to where it is today.Councillor Tony Hooker
It came after popular leadership hopeful Steven Woolfe was excluded from the race to replace Nigel Farage after submitting his nomination papers 17 minutes late.
Mr Finch was not available for comment after resigning.
But his actions have been supported by other members of the party.
Councillor Chris Wood, who represents Crofton on the county council, said: ‘The NEC’s decision was a complete and utter disgrace. They have not got the interests of the party and its members.
‘Ray is right to step down, I would have if I was in his position. I don’t think it will affect his position as an MEP or the county councillor.
‘For me, Steven Woolfe was the best person to take the party forward.’
Former Ukip county councillor Tony Hooker, who is now an independent for Andover, thinks the party will struggle to recover from people leaving.
‘Ray stepping down is a big loss to the party,’ he said.
‘He worked hard and helped get the party to where it is today. He’s probably one of the most principled politicians I know. If he takes a view I’d expect him to stand by it.’
Cllr Hooker added: ‘Ukip used to have a purpose – to get the country out of the European Union, which has happened. So what purpose does the party have now?
‘Ukip put local politics under pressure but everyone is leaving. The hierarchy of the party has gone and I don’t think Ukip can bounce back.’
In a joint statement Ms Ayling, Mr McGough and Mr Finch announced they were quitting over the ‘deliberate obstruction’ of Mr Woolfe’s nomination. They said the board ‘has essentially usurped full governance of the party’ and is ‘collectively in pursuit of oligarchy, self-promotion and cronyism.’
A Ukip spokesman said: ‘By a clear majority of NEC members, Steven Woolfe’s application was considered to be ineligible as a result of a late submission and as such he did not meet the eligibility criteria.’
After Mr Woolfe’s exclusion from the contest, MEP Diane James, the party’s deputy chairwoman and home affairs spokeswoman who contested a by election in Eastleigh in 2013, becomes the front runner and is promising to have a ‘laser focus’ on the Brexit negotiations.