'I want my life back' - Nigel Farage to stand down as head of Ukip
Nigel Farage has stepped down as leader of Ukip following last month's vote to leave the European Union, saying he had achieved the aim for which he came into politics.
Mr Farage, 52, has had two stints as leader of the Eurosceptic party since 2006, and announced he was quitting the post after failing to win a Commons seat in the 2015 general election, only to change his mind days later.
In a speech in London setting out Ukip's strategy for the post-referendum period, Mr Farage said: "During the referendum campaign, I said I want my country back. What I'm saying today is I want my life back, and it begins right now."
In a statement released by Ukip, Mr Farage said: "The victory for the Leave side in the referendum means that my political ambition has been achieved. I came into this struggle from business because I wanted us to be a self-governing nation, not to become a career politician.
"Ukip is in a good position and will continue, with my full support, to attract a significant vote. Whilst we will now leave the European Union, the terms of our withdrawal are unclear. If there is too much backsliding by the Government and with the Labour Party detached from many of its voters then Ukip's best days may be yet to come".
Mr Farage said his political career since first standing for Ukip in the Eastleigh by-election of 1994 had been "a long journey, not at every stage of the way an easy one, although most of it, I have to say, has been tremendous fun".
He added: "Tough though it's been at times, it's all certainly been worth it.
"I came into politics from business because I believed that this nation should be self-governing. I have never been and I have never wanted to be a career politician.
"My aim in being in politics was to get Britain out of the European Union. That is what we voted for in that referendum two weeks ago, and that is why I now feel that I've done my bit, that I couldn't possibly achieve more than we managed to get in that referendum.
"So I feel it's right that I should now stand aside as leader of Ukip. I will continue to support the party, I will support the new leader, I will watch the renegotiation process in Brussels like a hawk and perhaps comment in the European Parliament from time to time.
"I'm also very keen to help the independence movements that are springing up in other parts of the European Union, because I'm certain of one thing - you haven't seen the last country that wants to leave the EU.
"It has been a huge chunk of my life, doing this, and it's not easy perhaps when you feel a degree of ownership of something to let it go. But has come at a cost to me and perhaps to those around me. During the referendum campaign, I said I want my country back. What I'm saying today is I want my life back, and it begins right now."
Mr Farage has quit as leader before, but this time he insisted: "I won't change my mind again, I can promise you."
He added: "I do feel a degree of part-ownership of the Ukip brand and the journey we've been on. Letting go of that is not an easy thing to do but I think right now it's the right thing to do."
He said the next prime minister should be a Brexit-backer but "I'm not going to damn any one of them by offering my support".
He insisted Ukip had a bright future - particularly if the next government fails to meet the promises made by the Brexit campaign.
"If the Government does not get a good deal, if it concedes over this dreadful single market then I think Ukip's best days have yet to come."
He added that he would keep up the pressure in Brussels as a member of the European Parliament.
"There will be a strong Ukip voice in that parliament during the negotiations.
"If we see significant backsliding or weakness or, frankly, appeasement from the British government we will certainly say so."
He indicated that Ukip - and potentially he himself - should play a part in the Brexit talks.
"I have no idea whether they want to ask me or anybody else in Ukip to be part of this. But we do actually as a party have some good knowledge of how Brussels works and we have got some pretty senior business figures amongst our supporters."
He added: "I'm not putting myself forward. I did spend 20 years in business and I have spent a lot of time in Brussels, I might have something to give if they want it. If they don't, that's fine."
Mr Farage said that if there was to be a snap election Ukip should not fight against people who had the "guts" to go against the wishes of their parties to back Brexit.
The new leader will be in place by Ukip's conference in September but Mr Farage insisted he would keep "very quiet" about his potential successor.
The party's only MP Douglas Carswell, who has been locked in a bitter feud with Mr Farage, tweeted a smiling emoji as his reaction to the news of the leader's decision to quit.
Mr Farage said: "I'm pleased that he is smiling because that's not something I have seen very often from him."
He insisted he would "bury the hatchet with anybody" but advised people against putting money on Mr Carswell becoming the next leader.
He said: "It may well be. Go down to the bookies if you want but I wouldn't put too much on it myself if I were you."
The leadership process will be discussed at an emergency meeting of the party's national executive committee later.