The British political party that helped carry the nation toward an exit from the European Union picked a former top deputy as its new leader Monday to replace the firebrand Nigel Farage as he shifts to building his personal ties with President-elect Donald Trump.
Farage has now turned his attention across the Atlantic, hoping to carve out a role as a chief British confidant for Trump — who shattered protocol earlier this month and suggested on Twitter that Britain should appoint Farage as ambassador to the United States. British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a terse but firm rebuke to Trump’s surprise tweet.
Still, Nuttall will take over a party seen as part of the populist groundswell in the West led by the poll-defying victories of Brexit and Trump.
Nuttall’s main challenges now appear to be forging a post-Farage identity for the party and moving beyond its ultra-fringe voice in Parliament — holding just one seat in the 650-member House of Commons.
Nuttall, who was Farage’s top deputy and a former university history professor, beat back a challenge from another insider, Suzanne Evans, who drafted UKIP’s 2015 election manifesto that included broadsides against the European Union and Britain’s immigration policies.
“Today is the day we put the UKIP jigsaw back together,” said Nuttall, 39, who set his sights on trying to lure away working-class voters now with the opposition Labour Party.
Last week, Farage warned of a “seismic shock” if Brexit is delayed beyond the current plans to set the break in motion this spring.
But Britain’s treasury chief, Philip Hammond, reiterated Thursday that there are no plans to replace its current ambassador to Washington.
“It isn’t for other countries to decide who we appoint as ambassadors and if I ever need any advice from Nigel Farage, I’ve got his number, and I’ll give him a call,” Hammond told the ITV network. “Tell him not to hold his breath.”