Ukip’s Deputy Leader Paul Nuttall is “massively” worried about the future of the party as the race to succeed Nigel Farage grows increasingly bitter.
The North-West MEP is calling on whoever wins the leadership contest to unite the warring factions which are seeking to control Ukip.
Nuttall, who chose not to run for the leadership for “family, personal and political reasons”, believes the future is “bleak” for Ukip unless the fighting is halted.
He also called on outgoing leader Nigel Farage to rule out a return to the top job in order to allow his successor to push on with their vision for the party.
Nuttall’s intervention comes on the day the Huff Post UK reveals members of Ukip’s youth wing have been mocking leadership contender Lisa Duffy over her appearance.
Speaking to the Huff Post UK this morning, Nuttall said: “The future of Ukip will be dependent on if the new leader is serious about reuniting the party.
“If the division continues I think the future is very bleak.”
When asked if he was worried about Ukip’s continued existence, Nuttall replied: “Massively.”
He added: “Let’s not beat around the bush, let’s be frank about this: as a party we have regressed since 2015.
“The local election results have been really poor. We made 25 gains in England in the middle of the EU referendum.
“The membership has reduced at the time we were fighting a referendum.”
The race to succeed Farage as party leader has been mired in controversy, with one-time favourite Steven Woolfe banned from standing after submitting his nomination 17 minutes after the deadline.
The party’s National Executive Committee ruled that he was not eligible to stand because of the error, prompting Woolfe’s supporters – including Ukip donor Arron Banks – to call for an Extraordinary General Meeting in order to do away with the NEC.
Nuttall has two words for those seeking this course of action: “Drop it.”
He added: “Seven of the 12 elected members of the NEC are up for re-election in October.
“If you want to change the structure of the party, do it through the NEC elections.
“All this talk is doing is increasing the level of division in the party.”
Nuttall also pointed out that any attempt to do away with the elected NEC and replace it with an appointed body would be an ironic move for a party which has spent so many years campaigning against bureaucrats in Brussels.
The outgoing Deputy Leader was backing North East MEP Jonathan Arnott’s campaign to take over from Farage, but following his withdrawal from the race is now undecided about who to support.
He called on perceived frontrunner Diane James – who is shunning the 12 leadership hustings – to “sell herself” more to members.
“We need to know where she stands on the important issues – not just externally but internally: does she want to see the NEC reformed? Does she want to change the membership system, those kind of things.”
Ramsey Town Councillor Lisa Duffy was virtually unknown outside party circles until her leadership campaign received the endorsements of Ukip’s suspended former Deputy Chairman Suzanne Evans and MEP Patrick O’Flynn.
Farage and Evans had a spectacular falling out after last year’s General Election, and the James/Duffy clash is being viewed as proxy battle between two of Ukip’s best known figures.
Farage hinted he may yet still return as party leader, telling the Sunday Times: “If Brexit wasn’t delivered, then I would have to think seriously about plunging back in.”
He added: “But I hope I don’t have to.”
Nuttall said: “The party needs to get away from the idea that it’s a one man band. The next leader will have to be given a fair turn.
“What they don’t need is the spectre of the return of the former party leader. It’s unfair to anybody who takes the job.”
Also standing for the leadership are MEP Bill Etheridge, Ukip NEC member Liz Jones and the party’s 2015 Hartlepool candidate, Philip Broughton.