LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s anti-European Union UKIP party elected former army officer Henry Bolton its new leader on Friday, handing him the job of trying to stop the party that helped bring about Brexit becoming irrelevant.
Bolton, an infantry officer who also served in the police, was elected the UK Independence Party’s fourth leader in a year with 3,874 votes, 30 percent of the total. He said his priority was to ensure that Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s minority government delivered the exit from the EU.
“Brexit is our core task,” he told party supporters at UKIP’s conference in southwest England.
Led by the charismatic Nigel Farage, UKIP won nearly 4 million votes in 2015, 12.6 percent of those cast, on its anti-European Union platform, projecting it to the forefront of British politics even though it only managed to win one seat in parliament.
Its success helped force former Conservative prime minister David Cameron to agree to hold last year’s referendum on whether to leave the EU and played a role in ensuring that Britons voted for Brexit.
Farage stepped down as leader after the referendum and the party was plunged into internal turmoil as it battled to decide on a new direction. His replacement Dianne James lasted just 18 days and the frontrunner to succeed her quit the party after an altercation with a colleague left him in hospital.
UKIP’s support evaporated in the election in June, losing its only member of parliament who had already abandoned the party, and taking just 594,068 votes, only 1.8 percent of the total cast. This led to the resignation of the party’s then leader Paul Nuttall.
Bolton, who was backed by Farage, won the leadership nod ahead of Anne Marie Waters, an vocal anti-Islam campaigner who wants an end to immigration to Britain from Muslim societies.
UKIP was once dismissed by Cameron as being full of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” and some of the party’s lawmakers in the European Parliament had said they would quit the party if Waters won.
Bolton, who in 2005 stood as a candidate for parliament for the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, said as leader he would avoid discrimination and extremism and would seek to establish a vision beyond Brexit.
“When we leave the European Union that is not the end of the story,” he said. “We are leaving the European Union because we as a nation want to have that right of self-determination.”
Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Kate Holton/Jeremy Gaunt