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Britain's anti-EU party UKIP votes to sack leader Bolton

By Alistair Smout

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) - British eurosceptic party UKIP was thrown into turmoil again on Saturday when its members removed leader Henry Bolton after less than five months in charge following criticism of his leadership and a scandal about racist comments made by his lover.

The anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) was an influential force in bringing about a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union in 2016, but has struggled to maintain its relevance since the country voted to leave the European Union.

Former army officer Bolton, 54, was not widely known outside the party when he became UKIP's fourth leader in a year in September.

Backed by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage to turn the party's fortunes around, Bolton was instead humbled by party members, when 63 percent of 1,378 ballots cast at an Extraordinary General Meeting were for his removal.

"I'm slightly disappointed... It's not a great feeling," Bolton told Sky News, but he did not rule out running for leader again. "I'm not finished in politics, it's just one of those bumps in the road."

SHACKLED TO A CORPSE

Bolton publicly fell out with the party's national executive committee, which had tried to remove him after his 25-year-old lover, Jo Marney, made offensive comments about Prince Harry’s fiancée Meghan Markle in text messages to a friend.

Ex-leader Farage, who is still a regular fixture on TV and radio in Britain, continued to back Bolton after the scandal.

Under Farage, UKIP won nearly 4 million votes, or a 12.6 percent share of ballots cast, in the 2015 election on its anti-EU platform. UKIP's success was a factor in influencing then-Prime Minister David Cameron to hold the Brexit referendum.

But the party has seen its poll ratings slide since then, and has struggled to move out of Farage's shadow since the referendum.

Neil Hamilton, UKIP's leader in Wales, told Sky that Farage had been "shackling himself to a corpse" in supporting Bolton.

Outgoing party chairman Paul Oakden said a new leadership election would happen within 90 days. Gerard Batten, a member of the European Parliament for London and the party's former Brexit spokesman, was made interim leader.

"We've had many crises in UKIP, and I think this one today was about whether we have a future or not," he told party delegates. "I believe that you have made the best decision that you could in the circumstances."

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Edmund Blair)