Arron Banks, the UK Independent Party’s millionaire donor, says the party is at “breaking point” and is threatening to quit both as a member and financial backer.
Banks, who donated £1 million ($1.3 million) to the anti-EU party in 2014, made a statement on Thursday night as MEP Steven Woolfe was recovering in a French hospital after allegedly being punched by colleague Mike Hookem.
The businessman said the party was being poisoned by a disruptive minority and vowed to walk away if Woolfe is barred from entering the upcoming leadership contest and members Douglas Carswell and Neil Hamilton remain.
He also called for the party’s chief administrative body, the National Executive Committee, to be overhauled via a full election. “People have worked too long and too hard to get UKIP to where it is today, but it is clear that we ourselves, are at breaking point,” he said.
His remarks come less than a month after he told Business Insider that he will continue funding the pro-Brexit party. However, since then, Diane James resigned as leader after just 18 days in the job, and the favourite to succeed her, Woolfe, has been hospitalised by a fellow UKIP MEP.
In a statement, Banks said:
“Firstly, I was shocked at the events that unfolded today — it goes without saying that I wish Steven best wishes and hope he recovers soon.
“I am however utterly disgusted to see Neil Hamilton touring the newsrooms this afternoon, spewing his bile before anyone knew if Steven was going to be OK. He truly is a creature from the gutter who will do anything to get his mug on our screens.
“Tonight I am calling for the immediate suspension of the NEC. Elections need to be held for both the new leader of the party as well as the NEC.
“People say that UKIP is split down the middle between two camps. This is incorrect. The Tory troublemakers and filth columnists represent a small minority in our party, yet they use every opportunity they can to undermine those working tirelessly to hold the government’s feet to the flames. This ends today.
“If Neil Hamilton and Douglas Carswell remain in the party, and the NEC decide that Steven Woolfe cannot run for leader, I will be leaving UKIP.
“People have worked too long and too hard to get UKIP to where it is today, but it is clear that we ourselves, are at breaking point.”
The extraordinary incident involving Woolfe came after months of infighting which has been brewing within the party since Nigel Farage helped deliver the Brexit vote in June.
Woolfe, the party’s Manchester-born migration spokesperson, is hugely popular with the party membership, however, was unable to enter the recent leadership contest after failing to submit his application on time.
This sparked a bitter internal row between Woolfe’s supporters such as Banks, who described the NEC’s decision to block Woolfe from standing as “insanity,” and members who backed the NEC’s decision.
Banks was particularly damning of UKIP’s sole MP, Douglas Carswell, and the party’s Welsh assembly leader Neil Hamilton.
Carswell made headlines by quitting the Tories and defecting to the pro-Brexit in 2014. However, he clashed with Farage on a number of occasions during the latter’s leadership, to the point where the pair reportedly weren’t even on speaking terms. Farage described Carswell as a “careerist” at the party’s Bournemouth conference last month and accused the MP of trying to “split” the party during an appearance on LBC radio.
Hamilton, who himself has frosty relations with Farage and was banned from addressing the party’s recent conference, attracted criticism for comments he made in media interviews while Woolfe was reportedly in a life-threatening condition. Responding to Bank’s comments, Hamilton told the BBC that UKIP is “better off without people of that [Banks’] kind” on Friday morning.
Banks is one of UKIP’s primary sources of funding, meaning the party would have a significant financial void to fill if he was to walk away and his departure would be met with resentment from many members, with further more in-fighting likely.
Farage, who technically still leads the party, has launched an inquiry into the incident. The Police are yet to get involved.
Farage said in a statement: “I confirm that I have asked the Party Secretary and Party Chairman to conduct an investigation early next week from which the truth will be discovered. All other claims made in the media by representatives of UKIP who were not even there at the time are extremely unhelpful.”
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