Ukip standing no candidates in Northern Ireland – but denies it has given up

Ukip leader Nigel Farage campaigning in the shadow of  Carrickfergus Castle last year. Press Eye - Northern Ireland -25th April 2016
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Ukip leader Nigel Farage campaigning in the shadow of Carrickfergus Castle last year. Press Eye - Northern Ireland -25th April 2016 P

After contesting just one seat in March’s Northern Ireland Assembly election, Ukip is not standing a single candidate in Northern Ireland at the General Election.

For several years, former leader Nigel Farage and his successor Paul Nuttall have been frequent visitors to the Province, an area which they saw as a key area for Ukip’s exapansion.

Just over a year ago, Mr Farage confidently predicted to the News Letter that his party would have “seats” in Stormont in last year’s Assembly election - but it failed to win a single seat, polling just 1.5% of the vote.

Since then, the party has been riven with internal turmoil locally, mirroring its power-struggles in England.

In a statement today the party, which stood 10 candidates in Northern Ireland in the last General Election, polling 18,324 votes, said it was “putting country before party” by not standing in this election and urged voters to back pro-Brexit unionists.

The statement said: “We would advise everyone to exercise their democratic right to vote in this election by voting for those pro Brexit candidates and for pro Union parties.

“Use your vote wisely by ensuring you record your vote and that of your family and friends. Remember our enemies will use this election as a head count to call for a Border referendum.”

Bob Stoker, one of Ukip’s highest-polling candidates in Northern Ireland two years ago, denied that the party – which has been fracturing locally for more than a year – had given up on the Province and said it was “building from the ground up”.

He vowed that the party would contest the next council elections in Northern Ireland in 2019 and told the News Letter: “Our membership is still growing”.

The party’s high watermark in Northern Ireland came in the 2014 European election when it polled almost 25,000 votes - far ahead of the Greens and the Conservatives combined.