All 17 Ukip councillors on an Essex council have quit the party and formed a new group, denouncing the “bitter reality of party politics”.
As the party’s leader of four months Henry Bolton clings on despite a vote of no confidence, the Thurrock councillors suddenly announced on Friday they were quitting to form an independent local party for the area.
The defectors include MEP Tim Aker, a key member of the party who stood for the seat in the 2017 general election and was a policy chief until 2015.
In a statement, the leader of the new “Thurrock Independents”, Cllr Graham Snell, said: “Thurrock Independents have the only councillors in Thurrock whose prime concern will be Thurrock residents. They are not compromised by a slavish attachment to a national party...
“Our entire group joined Thurrock Independents as we have had enough of the aggressive and bitter reality of party politics. Our councillors have won widespread admiration for their hard work even from residents across the political spectrum.
“We hope that these admirers will now be able to support Thurrock Independents.”
Snell said the new party “entirely reject traditional ‘Punch and Judy’ politics”, adding: “We will respect our opponents at all times and will after the 2018 local elections be willing to cooperate with other Councillors who also adhere to this standard.”
The new party replaces Ukip as the official opposition on the Tory-controlled council.
Ukip saw some of its strongest electoral performances in Thurrock, where the party unveiled its 2015 election manifesto.
Aker came third in the 2017 election, with 20% of the vote, in an election in which Ukip won no seats nationwide and lost votes as the two main parties increased their share.
Aker told Westmonster, a new pro-Brexit website, he would continue to sit as a Ukip MEP.
Westmonster co-owner and former Nigel Farage aide Michael Heaver said Thurrock was “the jewel in the crown of the party” and that the resignations were “devastating”.
Journalist and historian Tim Stanley compared Ukip’s success in Thurrock to Labour’s in Islington, adding: “It’s all over.”
A Ukip spokesman told the BBC he hoped the 17 councillors would “continue to serve their constituents as well as they have”.