LONDON (Reuters) - UKIP, the party that was instrumental in bringing about Britain’s 2016 referendum to leave the European Union but has since become almost irrelevant, elected its new leader on Saturday, the sixth in the last three years.
The party whose surge helped persuade former Prime Minister David Cameron to call a referendum on Brexit has since largely faded as voters deserted it for a new Brexit Party founded this year by its former leader Nigel Farage.
Richard Braine replaces Gerard Batten who stepped down as UKIP leader in June after support plummeted amid accusations by critics he had taken the anti-EU party in a far-right direction.
“We’re coming back,” Braine said. “So I’m very excited and looking forward to leadership of this party, bringing the members together and delivering better results.”
Under Farage, UKIP topped the polls in Britain in elections for the European parliament in 2014 and won nearly 4 million votes in a national election the following year.
But after Farage left in the aftermath of the referendum, the party descended into internal turmoil and its popularity waned. Farage’s new Brexit Party placed first in European elections this year, while UKIP won less than 4% of the vote and lost all its European lawmakers.
Since Farage quit UKIP, the party’s leadership has stumbled from one disaster to another. His replacement Dianne James lasted just 18 days. The frontrunner to succeed her quit the party after ending up in hospital following a quarrel with a colleague.
James was followed by Paul Nuttall who quit after a poor performance in the 2017 national election. Former infantry officer Henry Bolton then took over but members voted to remove him after just five months after a scandal over racist comments made by his lover.
Reporting by Michael Holden