LONDON – The troubled U.K. Independence Party ousted its leader Saturday after a scandal over racist text messages sent by his girlfriend, leaving the future of the right-wing party that played a key role in Brexit once more uncertain.
A majority of party members backed a motion of no confidence in UKIP Leader Henry Bolton, who had faced growing pressure to resign since a newspaper in mid-January published the messages Jo Marney wrote about Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s fiancee.
Marney, 25, who was also a UKIP member, was suspended from the party at the time.
The departure of Bolton, who was only elected to his role in September, will trigger the fourth leadership contest in the party since 2016.
Marney, who describes herself as a model and actor, had sent the text messages published by the Mail on Sunday newspaper to a friend. The newspaper said the texts included offensive comments about black people and alleged that Markle would “taint” the royal family.
Marney apologized for the “shocking language,” but said her words were taken out of context.
Following Saturday’s no-confidence vote, the party said Gerard Batten will take over as interim leader and a leadership election would be held within 90 days.
The euroskeptic UKIP and its then-leader, Nigel Farage, were closely associated with Britain’s June 2016 vote to leave the European Union. Since then, it has struggled to maintain its prominence and failed to win any Parliament seats during an election last year.
Some party members have suggested that Farage, a charismatic but divisive figure, could return to the helm. Farage stepped down in 2016 and worked to raise his international profile as the most prominent British supporter of Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency.
Bolton had said earlier that he thought “it’s going to be very difficult for the party to survive” another round of leadership turmoil.
The party has financial problems, including a possible legal bill from a defamation case.