The party’s over.
UKIP is finished as an electoral force, even its millionaire former backer Arron Banks has claimed, following a dreadful local election night.
With votes still being counted, UKIP has so far lost more than 100 councillors.
It was wiped out in Lincolnshire and Essex as large parts of its support switched to the Tories and has so far made only one gain – Lancashire.
Banks accused leader Paul Nuttall of “crashing the car” with his focus on Muslim issues, and suggested that what the party now needed was “a strategic bullet to the back of the head”.
Nuttall admitted it had been a “difficult” night and added: “Frankly, there is nothing they could have done in the face of a big national swing to the Tories.”
Nothing without Brexit?
No sooner had the results started coming in, then the inquisition started for UKIP.
Mr Banks said the leader had harmed UKIP’s chances by launching his General Election campaign with a message on Muslim issues like a burka ban, instead of treating it as a second referendum on Brexit.
The millionaire, who funded the Leave.EU referendum campaign, said pro-Brexit voters should now back “the most viable candidate” in the June 8 election.
“If we use the analogy of UKIP as a racing car, Nigel (Farage) was a skilled driver who drove the car around the track faster and faster, knowing when to take risks, delighting the audience,” said Mr Banks.
“The current leadership has crashed the car, at the first bend of the race, into the crowd, killing the driver and spectators.
“As one of the Leave.EU team said to me: a strategic bullet to the back of the head.
“UKIP under the current leadership, without positive radical policies, is finished as an electoral force.”
“Victim of its own success”
Nuttall though said UKIP’s influence was still being felt, as the Conservatives had seized their polices, especially on Brexit.
“Our electoral success over recent years was a key driver in forcing the Conservatives to embrace our cause under a new Prime Minister who was campaigning for a Remain vote in the referendum a year ago,” he said.
“Mrs May’s public dispute with the EU in recent days, which led to her speaking about standing up to Brussels in an eve-of-poll statement in Downing Street, was particularly fortuitously timed for the Conservatives.”
He added: “If the price of Britain leaving the EU is a Tory advance after taking up this patriotic cause, then it is a price Ukip is prepared to pay.
“We are the victims of our own success and now we pick ourselves up and go on to further success in the future.”
Wipeout at the General Election?
With just over a month to go before the General Election, elections expert Michael Thrasher said Ukip’s share of the national vote could fall as low as 3%, down from 22% when the same seats were contested in 2013.
Professor Thrasher told Sky News: “Ukip received one in eight votes cast at the 2015 general election, and therefore those votes are absolutely critical in a month’s time at the General Election.”
Politics professor John Curtice said Ukip “has lost everything they’ve been trying to defend”.
In another blow, Ukip’s top tier in Rotherham resigned in protest at the direction of the party and Mr Nuttall’s leadership, the Yorkshire Post reported.
Meanwhile, MEP Steven Woolfe – who quit Ukip in the aftermath of an altercation with a party colleague – said he would back the Tories in the General Election.
Asked if he would vote for Mr Nuttall or Mrs May, the MEP told BBC 5 Live: “I’ve got no choice – it would have to be Theresa May.
“The darker forces within Ukip … have managed to rise … and that just won’t work in the United Kingdom.”
UKIP’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, who has since become an independent, tweeted that the party was “done”.