Paul Nuttall has been elected by Ukip members to replace Nigel Farage as leader, ending a turbulent period for the party after the referendum to leave the European Union.
Nuttall, the former deputy leader, was elected with 62.6% of the 15,405 votes cast. His presumed nearest challenger, Suzanne Evans, won just 19.3% of the votes, only 200 more than the rank outsider, John Rees-Evans, who won 18.1%.
The MEP for north-west England takes over from Farage, who had returned briefly as interim leader in October when his chosen replacement, Diane James, stepped down after just 18 days in the job, citing a lack of internal party support.
Speaking at a party event in London after being announced as leader, Nuttall called for unity following tumultuous months for the party. He told members that if they did not wish to unite “your time in Ukip is coming to an end”.
Nuttall used his acceptance speech to promise he would hold the Tories to account over Brexit. He vowed also to pursue Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, saying it had lost touch with working-class voters. “I want to replace the Labour party and make Ukip the patriotic party of the UK.”
Nuttall was preceded by Farage, who gave a valedictory speech in which he hailed Ukip’s key role in delivering Brexit and, as he argued, paving the way for Donald Trump’s election as US president.
Farage insisted he would not return again as leader but would help his successor as needed. Farage also said he would combine being an MEP with a career in the media and a visit to the US “as a tourist”.
Farage has spent little time on public party duties while back in the job, instead spending time in the US to support Trump.
It will be Nuttall’s task to revitalise Ukip and seek ways to maintain the party’s relevance following an exodus of supporters and members to the Conservatives after the Brexit vote.
Theresa May has embraced the cause of leaving the EU and has adopted key Ukip policies, such as lifting the ban on new grammar schools.
However, the new leader may seek to exploit Eurosceptic fears that May will not be able to deliver a clean break from the EU that reduces immigration and cuts ties with the single market.
At the same time, there may be an opportunity to woo pro-Brexit Labour supporters in the north of England who were unhappy with their party’s campaign to remain.
Nuttall, a former university history lecturer from Bootle in Merseyside, has been seen as the senior Ukip figure most likely to be able to connect with this vote.
The MEP has strong rightwing views on crime, is open to a referendum on the reintroduction of the death penalty for child killers, and opposes abortion.
The party has been unsettled by having two leadership contests in rapid succession after Farage announced his intention to stand down as leader in the wake of the EU referendum.
In the first contest, the favourite to succeed Farage, Steven Woolfe, was disqualified from running because he submitted his application 17 minutes late, and Evans was not allowed to stand because she was suspended from the party.
James, an MEP, was elected leader but stepped down after signing her official forms with the words “under duress” in Latin. She later said she did not feel that she had the support of colleagues to carry out necessary reforms of the party’s national executive committee.
A fresh contest was called, but Woolfe again had to withdraw following a fight with fellow MEP Mike Hookem in the European parliament in Strasbourg over reports he had been in talks about defecting to the Conservatives. Woolfe ended up in hospital after collapsing and both men were investigated by the party, while the altercation was referred to French police by the European parliament president, Martin Schulz.
Nuttall and Evans entered the contest, along with Farage’s former chief of staff, Raheem Kassam, who later withdrew saying the path to victory was too narrow, and Peter Whittle, a Ukip London assembly member, who also withdrew and gave his backing to Nuttall.
Rees-Evans, the least known of the candidates, was in the news last year for claiming in 2014 that his horse had been raped by a gay donkey.