Ukip will be “placed in severe jeopardy” if senior figures mount a legal challenge over Steven Woolfe’s eligibility to be leader, according to an email seen by Huff Post UK.
An email from outgoing-Ukip chairman Steve Crowther to members of the party’s National Executive Committee warns that questioning whether MEPs such as Woolfe are party members is “ludicrous”.
Questions over Woolfe’s eligibility were raised after documents leaked to the Huff Post UK earlier this week suggested the MEP had let his party membership lapse from December 2014 to March 2016.
Such an error could see Woolfe banned from standing in the leadership contest, triggered by Farage’s resignation earlier this month, as Ukip rules mean any contenders need to have been a member for at least two years.
An email sent by Crowther to NEC members today tried to quash any suggestion Woolfe could not run.
He wrote: “The idea that some of our MEPs are not members of the party is ludicrous, and if the NEC or anyone else attempts to use it to affect the leadership contest, the party will be placed in severe jeopardy.
“The resultant legal challenges will require full NEC transparency and declaration of all candidate interests.”
Documents seen by the Huff Post UK earlier this week suggested Woolfe was told on March 29 this year his Ukip membership lapsed in December 2014 and had not been renewed.
An email sent to Woolfe in April asked him if he wished to renew as a standard member, or join Ukip’s Patron Club – which carries with it a fee of £1,000 a year.
According to another document, Woolfe’s membership was officially “reopened” on July 12 - eight days after Farage announced he was standing down.
One issue under debate among the Ukip hierarchy is whether membership of the Patron’s Club constitutes full membership of the party.
In an email today, former Ukip General Secretary Roger Bird said: “One thing I can say unequivocally: contributing money to the Patrons’ Club definitely does not bestow membership status.”
He went on to explain that “many people contribute money to the Patrons Club because they wish NOT to become members of the party. This is typically because they are worried that their business interests would suffer if they became Ukip members.”
In his response to those points, Crowther said it was “not accurate” to suggest giving money to the Patron’s Club did not automatically guarantee full party membership.
He wrote: “The normal Patrons membership form includes annual membership, but allows applicants to signify that they do not wish to be members.
“I know of only one who has done this.
“It was always the practice to take a Patron’s membership to include annual membership unless otherwise stated, since taking £1000 from a member and then saying ‘by the way, you now need to give us another £30 to be a member’ was considered rather rude.
“I suspect that Roger did not sign a new form on joining the Patrons Club because he was already a party member.”
The row over Woolfe’s eligibility to stand in the race is threatening to cast a shadow over his campaign, which last night included a rally in Manchester.
Woolfe has received the backing of Ukip donor Arron Banks, and is the favourite to take over as leader.
One of his rivals, Lisa Duffy, launched her leadership bid today in London - boosted by the support of what time Farage-favourite Suzanne Evans.
Other contenders are MEPs Jonathan Arnott and Bill Etheridge.