UKIP in chaos: leader Henry Bolton loses confidence vote after girlfriend’s racist Markle messages

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 2:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 22 January, 2018, 3:24pm

Britain’s anti-immigration UK Independence Party (UKIP) has been plunged into chaos after its leader, Henry Bolton, overwhelmingly lost a vote of confidence from the party’s national executive committee, but then indicated that he would not step down from the role voluntarily.

If he stays, the party will have to hold an emergency meeting of members in the next month to try to force him out.

Bolton, Ukip’s leader since September, has been under huge pressure over his relationship with Jo Marney, a 25-year-old party activist who was found to have sent racist text and social media messages.

The furore prompted a meeting of Ukip’s executive committee on Sunday, which decided on a no-confidence vote on his leadership. It was supported by all those present, apart from Bolton.

A statement from the party chairman, Paul Oakden, said the NEC meeting heard a statement from Bolton, after which members “asked a number of questions pertaining to that coverage”.

It said: “At the conclusion of that discussion, the committee took the decision to hold a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Henry Bolton. The vote was carried unanimously with the exception of the leader.”

Oakden said later that Bolton did not have any apparent plans to quit. He told LBC radio: “I think Henry Bolton certainly recognises the strength of feeling that there is within the NEC, but equally he feels that he is the right man to take the party forward.”

The emergency meeting will take place within 28 days, unless Bolton were to resign beforehand. Under UKIP rules, at least 250 members will need to gather for the vote.

It marks yet another crisis for a party now potentially seeking its fifth permanent leader since Nigel Farage stepped down from the role just over 18 months ago. The party is desperately struggling to generate funds and a sense of purpose after the Brexit vote.

As well as the NEC, Bolton has lost the support of most of the party’s other senior figures, several of whom have resigned having been deeply disquieted by the way he handled the revelations about Marney.

Bolton, 54, began a relationship with Marney, a UKIP activist and model, at Christmas, but said it ended following reporting of the offensive messages, which included racist terms about Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s fiancée.

The relationship brought an end to his marriage to his wife, Tatiana, with whom he has two children.

Neil Hamilton, the former Conservative MP who is now Ukip’s leader in Wales, said Bolton should resign immediately. “If he forces us to hold an EGM, he will only humiliate himself further,” Hamilton said. “His recent behaviour has been so irrational, he should seek psychological help.”

In interviews before the meeting on Sunday, Bolton said he had done nothing wrong in his relationship with Marney, and that a new leadership election to replace him would be “unviable” for Ukip’s finances and could finish it as a party.

“If the NEC decides to go down the route of months of further infighting and further negative media scrutiny by deciding to pass a vote of no confidence in me, then I think that the reality is that the party is probably over,” he told ITV’s Peston on Sunday show.

Bolton said he did not feel the need to apologise for the situation: “I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong. My own personal life is a bit of a mess at the moment and I need to sort that out, of course, but I’m not letting it distract me one iota from my job as the leader.”