Dublin woman in pole position as Ukip decides new leader

Farage fears Anne Marie Waters would make Ukip a single-issue party against Islam

Irish born Anne Marie Waters is aiming to become the latest leader of the British political party Ukip. Video: Anne Marie Waters

 

The United Kingdom Independence Party will announce its new leader on Friday after a bitter contest that threatens to tear the party apart. Former leader Nigel Farage could walk out, along with most of Ukip’s 19 MEPs, if the bookies’ favourite, Dublin-born Anne Marie Waters, is the winner.

Ms Waters, who runs the anti-Muslim website Sharia Watch UK, has the backing of far-right activists outside Ukip, including Tommy Robinson of the English Defence League. Her strongest rival is Peter Whittle, one of Ukip’s two members of London’s assembly.

The Mail on Sunday reported this week that, if Ms Waters wins, Mr Farage is planning to launch a new party to oppose Theresa May’s approach to Brexit. The paper said former Ukip donor Arron Banks is ready to bankroll the new party, which most of Ukip’s MEPs could join until their term in Strasbourg ends in 2019.

“If Ms Waters becomes Ukip leader, all we ask is that she gives the party a decent burial,” Mr Banks said. “The country needs an effective political movement to stop May from selling out on the Brexit which British people voted for last year.”

The leadership contest was triggered after Paul Nuttall resigned as leader following a disastrous general election for Ukip in June. The party saw its share of the vote fall to 1.8 per cent, from 12.6 per cent in 2015, with just over half a million people voting for Ukip, compared with almost four million two years earlier.

Banks and Farage fear Waters will turn Ukip into a single-issue party focused on opposing Islam, which she has described as 'evil'

Mr Nuttall lasted just six months as leader, but his predecessor, Diane James was even more short-lived, staying in the job for just 18 days before resigning, saying she could not “continue to bang my head against a brick wall”.

‘Never-ending transition’

Brexiteers such as Mr Banks see an opportunity following Ms May’s speech in Florence last week, when she called for Britain to effectively stay in the single market for two years after it leaves the EU in March 2019.

“We’re not leaving, it’s just a never-ending transition. That takes you five years past the date of the vote, where presumably there’ll be a general election where they’ll try and reverse it,” he said.

Mr Banks and Mr Farage fear Ms Waters will turn Ukip into a single-issue party focused on opposing Islam, which she has described as “evil”. Others fear her leadership could see the party taken over by elements of the openly racist far-right, including the EDL and the British National Party.

A “senior member” of the German far-right party Alternative für Deutschland will address Ukip’s conference in Torquay, days after the party won 12.6 percent of the vote and about 90 seats in the Bundestag elections.