Then there were three: Peter Whittle has withdrawn from the Ukip leadership contest

 
Emma Haslett
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New UKIP Leader Steps Down After 18 Days
Whittle wants his supporters to opt for Paul Nuttall instead (Source: Getty)

Peter Whittle has withdrawn from the Ukip leadership contest, just weeks after he declared his intention to stand.

In a statement today Whittle urged Ukip members to support Paul Nuttall instead.

In a post on Facebook he said Ukip needed a leader who "knows the party inside out and who can command the loyalty of members across the board".

So after a great deal of thought, I have decided to withdraw from the leadership contest and recommend wholeheartedly that members vote for Paul Nuttall.

The news comes days after another Ukip leadership candidate, Raheem Kassam, pulled out of the contest.

Kassam was one of the first candidates to declare his intention to succeed Diane James, who was the party's leader for just 18 days.

But last week he complained of "disgraceful treatment" by the media, and warned the party was treating the contest like a "coronation".

That leaves three candidates in the running: Ukip MEP Nuttall; Jonathan Rees-Evans, who this week came under fire for comparing gay-rights campaigners with Nazis; and former Ukip spokesperson Suzanne Evans.

Read more: Nigel Farage - "Our political class do not accept the Referendum result"

Whittle's full statement

In the month since I declared my intention to stand for the leadership of Ukip I have been hugely encouraged by the goodwill, desire for unity and sheer commitment of our members up and down the country.

We have been through a difficult few weeks. We have been here before, but have gone on to survive and prosper. We will do so again. I am convinced that having had the historical success of the referendum, our party is on the threshold of a new era.

Furthermore, yesterday's High Court ruling also suggests that the battle to ensure that the Leave vote in the referendum is respected is far from over and UKIP is needed more than ever.

To meet the new challenges which the future holds, UKIP needs a leader who knows the party inside out and who can command the loyalty of members across the board.

So after a great deal of thought, I have decided to withdraw from the leadership contest and recommend wholeheartedly that members vote for Paul Nuttall.

I would like to thank those members and supporters who planned to support me, but I have become convinced that the sheer breadth of Paul's political experience, his dedication to the values of the party and the obvious affection in which he is held by members make him the person who is best placed to take us forward.