Steven Woolfe, the favourite to succeed Nigel Farage as Ukip leader, could be out of the race after he missed the deadline for submitting his application by 17 minutes because of technical problems.
A spokesman for the MEP and migration spokesman said he was still a candidate. The party has not yet confirmed whether the delay will make him ineligible. A party spokesman said a final decision would be made on Tuesday after final vetting procedures were completed.
Woolfe was already under threat of being excluded from the contest over allegations he allowed his membership to lapse for more than a year. It is understood he may be prepared to take legal action if he is excluded from the race for that reason. He is seen as the frontrunner, with the backing of the influential Ukip donor Arron Banks, who is close to Farage.
A spokesman for Woolfe said: “Steven Woolfe remains a candidate in the Ukip leadership contest. He submitted his application form at 11.35am this morning, in advance of the midday deadline. However, due to technical problems on the party system, it did not successfully go through until 12.17pm. Mr Woolfe was speaking to party officials responsible for handling the application process throughout this time and right up to the deadline. He informed them that he was having technical problems. These problems were finally resolved and the paperwork submitted.”
The MEP was one of five Ukip politicians to put their names forward to succeed Farage so far, with nominations closing at midday on Sunday. The other four candidates are Lisa Duffy, a party organiser and chief of staff to Patrick O’Flynn; Jonathan Arnott, a former party general secretary who is MEP for North East England; Bill Etheridge, the West Midlands MEP; and Liz Jones, Ukip’s deputy chair in Lambeth, south London.
There have been signs that some within Ukip were keen to see off Woolfe’s candidacy before the competition had got off the ground, after leaked emails revealed questions had been raised over his membership status.
Other senior Ukip figures, including Banks and the former Tory MP Mark Reckless, have been counted out of the competition because of the requirement they have to have been members for five years.
Woolfe’s fate may be decided by a three-person panel of Ukip’s national executive committee on Tuesday.
The leadership contest was triggered when Farage stepped down after the EU referendum, although there has been persistent speculation that he could harbour ambitions to return.
He reversed his decision to resign after the 2015 general election having previously taken time out during the leadership of Malcolm Pearson.
The Huffington Post reported on Friday that the Ukip deputy treasurer Peter Jewell was seeking 50 signatures to run as a candidate, as “Nigel and others” had asked him to throw his hat into the ring in order to “hold the fort for a while”.
Steve Crowther, the party’s outgoing chairman, has said any attempt to exclude Woolfe from the contest would be ludicrous and could put the party in severe jeopardy.
Woolfe, who frequently highlights his childhood on a Manchester council estate and his mixed-race heritage, told the Guardian last week that he wanted to put social mobility at the heart of his campaign. He claimed this could be achieved in part by introducing grammar schools in 50 of the poorest areas of the UK. He also urged the party to stop engaging in the “politics of the sixth form college”.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for theguardian.com on Sunday 31st July 2016 16.10 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010