A senior member of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which was instrumental in the campaign for Brexit, was hospitalized in serious condition after reportedly being punched by a colleague at the European Parliament in Strasbourg today (Oct. 6).
Steven Woolfe, a member of the European Parliament, is a leading contender to become the next leader of the party, which has been floundering since the UK voted to leave the EU in June. The Brexit vote should have been the party’s proudest moment but instead has thrown it into turmoil, with today’s news a shocking escalation.
Nigel Farage, the longtime leader of the party who stepped down after the Brexit vote, said in a statement that Woolfe’s condition is “serious” following “an altercation that took place at a meeting of UKIP MEPs this morning.” Earlier, the party said cryptically that Woolfe “was taken suddenly ill.” Today is Woolfe’s 49th birthday.
Initial reports suggested Woolfe fell unconscious and may have bleeding to the brain following a fight with a colleague, but he later said in a statement from the hospital that scans found no blood clots and he is “feeling brighter, happier and smiling as ever.” Woolfe is in the running to take over as the next leader of UKIP, but admitted recently that he was “enthused” by Conservative prime minister Theresa May’s commitment to a “clean Brexit,” leading some to question his party loyalty.
Farage’s resignation shortly after the June 23 Brexit referendum prompted a vicious leadership contest, which one party member said had descended into a “mud-slinging contest” (paywall). The leadership was won by Diane James, the party’s justice spokesperson, in mid-September. On Tuesday this week, she abruptly stepped down after only 18 days in charge, citing a lack of support from colleagues.
Arron Banks, a prominent UKIP donor, published a scathing editorial in the Guardian yesterday about the recent turmoil. The party is run by “circus clowns” who hounded James out of her leadership role, leaving only “no-name, no-talent nobodies to choose from.” He put his support behind Woolfe as UKIP’s next leader, “with a mandate to sweep aside the hopeless national executive committee.”
For his part, Farage was also in the papers yesterday, thrust back in the spotlight as caretaker party leader. “I feel rather like an escapee who has been recaptured,” he wrote in The Daily Telegraph. “All political parties have bad days. I’m pleased that yesterday is behind us.”
Another leadership election will be held, he noted, and a new party boss put in place by the end of November. “So at worst, this whole saga has put us back a few weeks,” he wrote. “It is no worse than that.” It seems he spoke too soon.