Henry Bolton has stepped down as leader of UKIP just five months after being elected leader, after members overwhelmingly voted to remove him.
More than 1,500 UKIP members congregated in Birmingham on Saturday for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to decide his fate, after a controversy-strewn few weeks in which he was called on to defend offensive messages sent by his girlfriend about Meghan Markle, the fiancée of Prince Harry.
Out of 1,300 ballot papers, 857 were cast in favour of a motion of no confidence, a majority of 67%. The party’s National Executive met immediately after the vote and after about 15 minutes announced that Gerard Batten would be the interim leader.
Outgoing party chairman Paul Oakden told delegates to remain faithful to the party regardless of the decision.
And Bolton’s departure comes days after UKIP was hit with a huge legal bill after one of its MEPs was successfully sued for defamation by three Labour MPs. UKIP could have to pay as much as £200,000 of the total costs, raising questions over whether the party has the reserves to pay.
Former leader Nigel Farage had given Bolton his qualified backing, saying that “for all his faults” his removal would mean UKIP sliding into irrelevance.
A former soldier and police officer, Bolton took the leadership reins in September 2017 as a relative unknown, more than a year after the EU referendum took place – for many the party’s sole raison d’être. He became UKIP’s fifth leader in little over a year, succeeding Steve Crowther, Paul Nuttall, Diane James, and Nigel Farage.
Bolton was forced to work in the shadow of Farage, who retains a big media profile and suggested in January that he might back a second EU referendum, directly contradicting UKIP policy.
Ironically, many UKIP officials and support staff are paid by the EU, through its 22 MEPs – an arrangement that will end in 2019.
While the conference hall waited for Bolton’s future to be announced, Oakden told reporters that the EGM had already been a success because, unlike a previous conference, no one died.