Nigel Farage has insisted that Ukip remains “100% united” a day after the party confirmed two senior figures would be leaving their posts.
The Ukip leader was speaking after it was announced that the party’s head of policy, Suzanne Evans, and the economics spokesman, Patrick O’Flynn, who were both central to an internal party row which erupted last week, are to stand down.
O’Flynn quit and apologised after claiming Farage had become “snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive” because he was surrounded by a “poisonous” inner circle.
Later, Evans released a statement saying her contract as policy chief was coming to an end next week but that she would continue in her voluntary role of deputy chairman.
Farage told the BBC’s Today programme on Wednesday: “What has happened in Ukip is, since the election, after the pressure cooker atmosphere of a campaign office, one or two regrettable things were said and done by a very small number of people.
“I tell you where this leaves Ukip, going into this referendum campaign – unlike the other parties – united. 100% united.
“We have, for over 20 years, fought hard to make the EU an issue. We were told we were the mad men from the hills for even considering whether Britain could have a future outside of political union and we now have a referendum on this subject. We are united, the other parties are very, very divided.”
Farage insisted that he had “other plans for what Suzanne Evans can do for Ukip”, saying she was potentially a great electoral asset and that there was “no question that she is a very able woman”.
Sources in the party have in recent days accused O’Flynn, Evans and Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s only MP, of trying to oust Farage over concerns he would not be the best person to lead a campaign to remove Britain from the EU.
Ukip has been in turmoil since Farage was defeated in South Thanet and stepped down as leader, before withdrawing his resignation four days later.
O’Flynn, Carswell and Evans have denied wanting Farage to go but made it clear they would like him to adopt a more consensual and less divisive leadership style.
Earlier this week, Farage’s position looked vulnerable when O’Flynn criticised him in the Times and an anonymous senior figure called for a leadership contest.
Asked about his decision to remain as leader after initially saying his position would be untenable if he did not win a seat in parliament at the general election, Farage said: “What’s changed is firstly that ... [the party] does not view what happened last week as failure. They think that for us to have got 4 million votes despite all the things that happened was a remarkable achievement.
“We have a referendum on our hands. I believe it’s going to be next May. I left the world of business to come into politics because I want Britain to have a trade relationship with Europe, but not to be part of a political union, so now is the time and that’s why I’ve stayed in position.”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin and Rowena Mason, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 20th May 2015 09.44 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010