Neil Hamilton ousted as UKIP leader in Welsh Assembly

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Former Tory MP Neil Hamilton was elected to the Welsh Assembly for UKIP in 2016

Neil Hamilton has been ousted as UKIP group leader in the Welsh Assembly.

The former Conservative MP has been replaced by Caroline Jones.

It comes after a day of wrangling over the Mid and West Wales AM’s future at the helm of the group, and after reports of a heated meeting of the party’s AMs on Wednesday.

Mr Hamilton became leader of the group after he ousted Nathan Gill following the 2016 assembly election.

Speaking to BBC Wales, Ms Jones confirmed she had won a majority vote of the group, which was taken on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m honoured they’ve put their trust in me to lead them in the Senedd and to bring us forward,” she said.

“Neil has done a good job, a very good job. He’s an accomplished politician. It will be difficult to follow his lead, really.”

The South Wales West AM would not confirm who had voted for her.

Ms Jones said: “I’m honoured they’ve put their trust in me to lead them in the Senedd and to bring us forward.

“Neil has worked tremendously hard. Now it’s for someone else to take over and sort of regenerate the party.”

Sources told BBC Wales that a heated meeting of UKIP AMs took place on Wednesday, which Gareth Bennett was said to have left before it ended when it became apparent that a leadership challenge was on the cards.

There were rumours of a breakaway group – backed by Ms Jones, David Rowlands and Michelle Brown – and it initially appeared that Mr Hamilton’s position as leader of the five-strong group was safe by mid-Thursday afternoon.

But that unravelled after news emerged of a vote which installed Ms Jones as leader.

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Welsh Assembly

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Caroline Jones has taken over as UKIP group leader in the Welsh Assembly

Tensions in the group recently emerged after Mr Bennett backed a decision by the assembly’s standards committee on which he sits to recommend Ms Brown be excluded from the assembly for a week over a racial slur she used in a private phone call.

Ms Brown said she was “not likely to take any lessons at all on political correctness, or conduct, from Gareth Bennett”.

Another clash came over Mr Hamilton’s recommendation that Mr Bennett be the group’s representative on UKIP’s national executive committee.

Ms Brown, Ms Jones and Mr Rowlands objected, and outvoted their two colleagues with Ms Brown taking over the role.

UKIP initially won seven seats at the 2016 assembly election but lost two when Mr Gill left the group to sit as an independent while Mark Reckless aligned himself with the Conservatives.

When Mr Gill quit the assembly in December Mandy Jones was sworn in as his replacement as a UKIP AM, but she decided against sitting with the group amid disagreements over her choice of staff.

Ms Jones said on Thursday “our plan is for us to go forward as a group of five,” and “to also extend an invitation to Mandy Jones to join us if she so wishes to concentrate, look at portfolios and decide who is best suited to which portfolios.”

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