UKIP elects James to replace Farage as party leader | News | DW | 16.09.2016
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UKIP elects James to replace Farage as party leader

Diane James has been tasked with trying to steer a fractured party that needs to redefine itself after having achieved its key goal of getting the UK out of the EU. As UKIP's new chief, she remains committed to Brexit.

Britain's anti-European Union party - the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) - elected Diane James its new party chairwoman on Friday.

She replaces Nigel Farage, who was head of the party for much of the past 10 years, leading it to its ultimate goal of taking the UK out of the European Union.

The party's former deputy co-chairman won 47 percent of the vote out of 17,970 party members who voted. UKIP claims to have 47,000 members. The result was announced at the UKIP annual conference in the coastal town of Bournemouth.

"We are the political change movement of the United Kingdom," James said, pledging to make sure Britain acts on the June referendum result and leaves the EU.

According to the EU rules, the UK should formally declare its intention to withdraw from the European free trade zone and then negotiate the terms of that withdrawal within two years.

Despite EU pressure for Britain to move quickly - to avoid prolonged uncertainty - Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated a formal declaration isn't likely before next year.

James is a member of the European Union Parliament and a former business analyst with a long career in the health care industry. She has vowed to ensure the government delivers an exit from the EU that meets the demands of UKIP voters: namely tighter immigration controls and more free trade.

Admiring Vladimir Putin

How the party will move to enhance the country's free trade after demanding it withdraw from the largest free trade zone is unclear.

While lacking Farage's charisma, James is a proverbial flame-thrower, once apologizing after warning of "crime associated with Romanians" during a campaign to become a MP.

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She further raised eyebrows after praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I admire him from the point of view that he's standing up for his country," said James, who was her party's justice and home affairs spokeswoman. "He's very nationalist. I do admire him. He is a very strong leader."

James inherits a comparatively small party: UKIP has one member of Parliament in the House of Commons, three representatives in the House of Lords, 22 members of the European Parliament, 488 councilors in UK local government and six members in the National Assembly for Wales.

But the party is torn with factional disputes and struggling to define a clear identity after achieving its ultimate goal - triggering Britain's exit from the EU.

The public referendum in June approved the UK's withdrawal from the EU by a slim margin of 52-48 percent. After the stunning referendum result, Farage announced he would step down as party chair, which he did in July.

bik/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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