October 06, 2016 - 10:04 AM
LONDON - Feuding in Britain's fractious, right-wing U.K. Independence Party erupted into violence Thursday that left a member of the European Parliament hospitalized with a head injury after an "altercation" with a colleague.
Steven Woolfe — the front-runner to be UKIP's next leader — suffered seizures and lost consciousness after clashing with another lawmaker Thursday morning during a meeting of party lawmakers at the legislative building in Strasbourg, France.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said Woolfe was initially in a serious condition and "things were pretty bad." But he said Thursday afternoon that Woolfe was "in a much better place than he was a few hours ago."
Farage said he was launching an inquiry into the violence, which he said "shouldn't have happened." He declined to identify the other party member involved in what he termed "an altercation."
Strasbourg police said the incident had not been reported to the force.
According to media reports, Woolfe was punched during a fistfight with another lawmaker, hit his head and collapsed a little while later.
UKIP said Woolfe had two "epileptic-like fits" and lost consciousness. An image published by ITV News showed a man resembling Woolfe apparently unconscious on a walkway inside the Strasbourg building, just outside the parliament chamber.
Several hours later, Woolfe reported that he was conscious and recovering. He said in a statement that a CT scan had revealed he did not have a blood clot on the brain.
"I am feeling brighter, happier and smiling as ever," he said. "I am sitting up, and said to be looking well. The only consequence at the moment is a bit of numbness on the left-hand side of my face."
The party said Woolfe would remain in the hospital overnight awaiting the results of more tests.
A lawyer of mixed English, Irish, Jewish and black American heritage, Woolfe represents his home region of northwest England in the European Parliament and is considered one of UKIP's rising stars.
A small party full of forceful personalities, UKIP has a long history of clashes between senior members — though they are usually verbal rather than physical. UKIP European parliamentarian Roger Helmer said Thursday's incident followed a party meeting that featured "some lively exchanges of views."
Woolfe, who turned 49 on Thursday, annoyed some party colleagues when he said recently that he had considered joining Britain's Conservative Party because he was "enthused" by new Prime Minister Theresa May's commitment to social reform.
Founded in 1993 with the aim of removing Britain from the European Union, UKIP has moved from the fringes of British politics to a position of serious influence. Over the past few years, the party has won over large numbers of Conservative and Labour voters by appealing to concerns about globalization and large-scale immigration.
UKIP was instrumental in getting Britain to hold a referendum on EU membership, which ended in a June 23 vote for the U.K. to leave the 28-nation bloc.
The result was an enormous political triumph for UKIP, but since gaining its long-sought goal the party has been torn by infighting.
Long-time leader Farage stepped down after the June referendum and was replaced by Diane James. She quit Tuesday after just 18 days, citing personal reasons — leaving Farage, a popular but divisive figure, as interim leader.
Woolfe had announced his intention to run in an upcoming leadership contest and was bookies' favourite to win. He was blocked from competing in the leadership contest won by James because party officials said he missed the application deadline by 17 minutes.
UKIP has just one seat out of 650 in Britain's House of Commons, but — despite its vociferous opposition to the EU and all it stands for — it holds more than 20 seats in the bloc's parliament of 751 seats.
Although Britain has voted to leave the EU it will remain a member until a formal divorce is negotiated — a process that could last two years or more.
Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016