London, Apr 14 (AFP) UKIP anointed Gerard Batten as its new leader today, after the fourth leadership contest in 19 months with the party in disarray since achieving its founding mission of Brexit.

Batten, 64, a member of the European Parliament (MEP), was elected unopposed after no other candidates stepped forward by Saturday's deadline.

Nigel Farage led the United Kingdom Independence Party to its zenith and was a driving force in bringing about the party's founding aim of getting Britain out of the European Union.

But since the June 2016 referendum on EU membership, UKIP has seen its support tumble and the party descend into chaos as it struggles to find a new role. It has also been dogged by financial problems.

There have been six changes of leadership since the referendum.

Farage stepped down after Britain voted for Brexit, his political mission complete.

Diane James took over then quit again within a month, with Farage returning as acting leader.

Paul Nuttall won the next leadership contest but UKIP flopped at the 2017 general election.

He quit and Steve Crowther took acting charge. Henry Bolton won the next leadership contest in September, but was ousted in February following a scandal over his private life.

Farage, who became friends with US President Donald Trump, remains an MEP but now hosts a national radio talk show five times a week.

Batten, an MEP since 2004, had been UKIP's interim leader since February. "I am pleased to accept the leadership of UKIP. Since my appointment as the interim leader, I have made a number of decisions that have put the party on a firm footing financially and organisationally," he said.

"As leader, I will do all I can to work for the progress of the party. UKIP is the only real opposition to our political establishment, and we are needed now as much as ever." The next test for the anti-EU, anti-mass immigration party is the English local elections on May 3, being contested largely in the metropolitan areas. (AFP) CPS

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