Diane James quits as Ukip leader after just 18 days, paving way for return of Nigel Farage
Ukip leader Diane James has quit the role after just 18 days.
Ms James said on Tuesday night that she does not "have sufficient authority, nor the full support" of Ukip MEPs and officers to reform party.
Her sudden departure paves the way for a potential return by Nigel Farage. Ukip chairman Paul Oakden said the former leader was "ready to serve in any way he can", adding: "I would say anything is possible at the moment."
In a statement Ms James said: "It is with great regret that I announce that I will not be formalising my recent nomination to become the new leader of the party with the Electoral Commission.
"Having won the enthusiastic support of party members, I was nominated by them as the new leader at the recent Ukip Bournemouth conference.
"Since that time I have been in discussion with party officers about the role. It has become clear that I do not have sufficient authority, nor the full support of all my MEP colleagues and party officers to implement changes I believe necessary and upon which I based my campaign.
"For personal and professional reasons therefore, I will not take the election process further.
"I will continue to concentrate fully on my activities and responsibilities as a Member of the European Parliament."
Senior Ukip members reported that Ms James, who took over from Nigel Farage last month, had resigned her position for personal and family reasons.
One senior party member told The Telegraph that Ms James has felt uneasy about her new role ever since she was spat at on a train station platform after winning the leadership contest.
Her resignation came just hours before a big speech to MEPs in Strasbourg about the future of Ukip in the European Parliament.
Ms James beat Lisa Duffy, Bill Etheridge, Phillip Broughton and Elizabeth Jones to win the leadership vote in mid-September.
However sources said that her personal concerns about the impact of being leader of the pro-Brexit party and a personal family matter forced her to resign.
Rumours had spread earlier on Tuesday about Mrs James being unhappy about signing a “fairly straightforward” document which formally handed her control of the party.
She is said to have been warned that she could not become leader if she continued to refuse to sign the document which would have formalised her election to the post.
Former Ukip official David Soutter claimed that Ms James "didn't want to do the job" in the first place and felt pressured into it by Mr Farage and donor Arron Banks.
But he said: "After Diane James confirmed Neil Hamilton as Ukip leader in Wales, Farage was incandescent."
He added that she "lost" their support over Mr Hamilton's appointment and the row was part of her decision to stand down.
Ukip chairman Paul Oakden said: "It is with regret that I have tonight received confirmation that Diane James has chosen to resign as party leader, citing personal and other reasons. I will now look to convene an emergency meeting of our NEC to confirm the process for electing Diane's replacement.
"Whilst the decision is unfortunate, it is one that Diane is entitled to make. We thank her for all her work as leader, and as a hard working MEP, a role she will continue with her customary vigour".
Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim tweeted to say he had spoken to her earlier in the day and "could sense unease".
Douglas Carswell, the party's only MP, tweeted: "In the middle of supper. Not taking calls about UKIP stuff. It's shepherds pie, by the way."
Ms James' departure will raise speculation that her predecessor Nigel Farage could make a comeback. A Ukip source said it would be unlikely that he would try to return to the role. In one interview he said "I'm not coming back, I'm retired," but in another he failed to rule out a return.
Steven Woolfe was also speculated to be a possible replacement for Ms James, after being excluded from the previous contest because his application was handed in late.
Mr Etheridge, who is considering running again, said he was "very disappointed" the leader had stepped down, describing her statement as "peculiar". The MEP told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "Unfortunately, Diane has stood down and the reasons for that are pretty unclear to me."
Speaking from Strasbourg, he added: "That's rather a peculiar statement that she's made because, as far as I'm aware, being out here with MEPs and colleagues, we've all been ready and willing to help and support her in what she wanted to do.
"She won the election fair and square and we were all ready to back her."
Mr Etheridge, a runner-up in the leadership race, added that he would not rule out standing again for leader.
Sources close to Suzanne Evans, another possible future leader, said she was surprised at the news but is not currently considering a leadership bid.
Ms James saw off a challenge from local politician and former TK Maxx manager Lisa Duffy, commanding 47.4 per cent of the vote to Mrs Duffy's 25.7 per cent. She took the top job with 8,451 votes.
During the leadership battle she promised to have a "laser focus" on the Brexit negotiations but refused to set out any policies, insisting she did not want to make "policy on the hoof".
Just days into her leadership Ms James was verbally attacked and spat at in Waterloo station.
That incident is said to have had a major impact on her decision. A source said that she had been left "traumatised" by the experience, adding: "Diane doesn’t really want to talk about it because I think she is concerned that it will encourage others to try it again."