UKIP “will survive” as an electoral force despite a drubbing at last week’s local elections, former leader Nigel Farage has said.
He told ITV’s Peston on Sunday that his successor Paul Nuttall was “doing fine” and said UKIP was still needed, to prevent any “back sliding” on Brexit.
Neil Hamilton, UKIP leader in the Welsh Assembly, told the BBC “cosmic forces”, not Mr Nuttall were to blame.
Mr Nuttall says UKIP voters who backed the Tories will come back to his party.
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UKIP won 3.8 million votes at the last general election in 2015 but, after the UK voted to leave the EU in last year’s referendum, many believe that its vote will be badly squeezed on 8 June, with the Conservatives being the main beneficiary.
All the 145 UKIP councillors defending their seats in local elections last week were beaten, although the party did pick up one seat in Burnley.
In Lincolnshire, where Mr Nuttall is standing in the general election in Boston and Skegness, UKIP went from being the official opposition to having no seats at all as the Tories gained 23 seats.
The results prompted the party’s former donor Arron Banks – who is no longer a party member – to say it was “finished as an electoral force” under its current leadership.
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But former leader Mr Farage told the ITV show that while Prime Minister Theresa May had adopted many of the arguments he had been making for years – she had failed to deliver on immigration targets in her previous job as home secretary.
“UKIP is going to survive, it has to survive, ” he said.
“It’s all well and good for Mrs May who gives wonderful speeches and sounds very reassuring, but… UKIP needs to be there in case there is back sliding on Brexit.
“If, in two and a half years’ time Mrs May has delivered the kind of Brexit that voters wanted, then I think you can ask the question: What is UKIP’s future, where does it go from here?
He said Mr Nuttall, who was elected party leader in November 2016, had been “strong and reassuring” after a “tough” 24 hours following last week’s local elections.
“It’s difficult for him… because the Conservative Party have taken our agenda, for now. It’s also difficult because when you follow on from someone – and I was a dominant, some of my critics would say domineering leader of UKIP – it’s always difficult to step into someone else’s shoes – he’s doing fine.”
On BBC One’s Sunday Politics, Mr Hamilton said the prime minister was a “very acute tactician” by calling the election now, but said once Brexit negotiations had been concluded “the focus will be on bread and butter issues” and UKIP had domestic policies which “will be popular with ordinary working people”.
He said “cosmic forces beyond the control of any individual” were to blame and it was “certainly” not Mr Nuttall’s fault: “I think our prospects in the future will be very rosy because I don’t believe the Tories will deliver on many of the promises they are now making.”