JUST four months ago UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe told the Leader he was looking forward to stepping back from politics if the UK voted to leave the EU.
But now, with his party’s mission apparently accomplished in the wake of the Brexit victory, it seems he has put his plans for a return to the legal profession on hold as the Chester politician and former barrister is the hot favourite to succeed Nigel Farage as the leader of UKIP.
In the first major rally of the party’s leadership campaign in Manchester on Tuesday, Mr Woolfe reached out to Labour voters in the northern heartlands and said his party now speaks for them.
Under his leadership, Mr Woolfe plans to ‘park UKIP’s tanks on Labour’s lawn’, saying traditional Labour voters have been ignored and left behind by the party’s current “sneering and condescending leadership”.
He added: “Millions of people are fed up with establishment parties that do not speak for them and do not represent their interests. It’s not about being right-wing or left-wing.
“UKIP does not fit into either bracket. We must give a voice to those who have been left behind, we must professionalise so we can build on Nigel Farage’s success and win seats at Westminster – and we must unite so we can effectively take our message to the country.”
During his speech, he attacked proposals for a Brexit deal that would result in the UK remaining in the single market and having a seven year emergency brake on migration.
Mr Woolfe added: “17.4 million people voted to leave the EU. Their wishes must be respected. The people voted for the UK to leave the single market, control its own borders, sign a free trade deal with Europe and take back control of its fishing waters. Brexit must mean Brexit. No back-sliding, no side-stepping, no Brexit-lite.
“I have confidence in the three Brexiteers – Davis, Fox and Johnson – who I campaigned alongside during the referendum. They should now be given some time to do the job. But let me be clear, UKIP under my leadership will not stand by and see Brexit watered down. We will not tolerate a fudged deal like a seven-year break. We will be the voice for the 17.4 million people who voted to leave. This government must deliver.”
He also laid out his plans to professionalise the party and for UKIP to be the flag bearer for social mobility, championing new grammar schools in some of the nation’s poorest boroughs.
He said: “Social mobility has been on the decline in Britain for decades. I want more kids from poor backgrounds to live out the British dream – just like I did. That is why I want a grammar school revolution in our country – starting in 50 of the poorest boroughs. These new selective schools will be matched with excellent technical and vocational schools and will include transfer exams for late developers.”
l Mr Woolfe has denied he could be ineligible to stand in the race to replace Nigel Farage.
The Huffington Post reported on Tuesday that leaked emails appeared to show he failed to pay his membership fees for 15 months.
The website claims that if the MEP let his membership lapse it would bar him from standing in the leadership contest as party rules require all contenders to have been members for at least two years.
But a spokesman for Mr Woolfe told the Leader yesterday there was nothing to stop him standing in the race.
He said: “Steven has been a proud member of UKIP since 2010 and a UKIP Member of the European Parliament since spring 2014. He looks forward to making the case over the next few weeks why he is the best person to succeed Nigel Farage as party leader.”
See full story in the Chester Leader