Ukip leader Henry Bolton has ended his “romantic relationship” with his controversial model girlfriend, but still faces a backlash from senior figures within his party.
Mr Bolton admitted that his relationship with Jo Marney was “obviously quite incompatible” with his position as party chief after it was reported she made racist remarks about Meghan Markle.
But he resisted calls to quit, insisted that he would “stand by” Ms Marney and claimed the messages did not reflect her “core beliefs”.
Mr Bolton also alleged that his critics within the party had used his girlfriend as a way of attacking his position.
West Midlands MEP Bill Etheridge quit as Ukip’s sport spokesman in protest at Mr Bolton’s refusal to stand down and urged party members to oust the leader.
The Mail On Sunday printed texts it said had been sent by Ms Marney about Prince Harry’s fiancee, including use of the word “Negro” and a message reading “This is Britain, not Africa”, during a discussion about the royal engagement.
In an interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Mr Bolton said: “I don’t defend these comments whatsoever and indeed Jo has been suspended pending an investigation under the normal rules of the party for such things, and it is against the constitution for the party to be racist in any way.
“As of last night the romantic side of our relationship is ended.”
Mr Bolton has faced widespread calls for his resignation, but he made it clear he wanted to stay in place as the party leader, saying “there are a great many people who fully support me”.
Asked if his position as leader had become untenable, he added: “First of all, I am not intending to resign – at all.
“This will be a question for the party so it’s up to the party what happens in relation to my leadership, I’m not going to resign.”
Mr Bolton admitted he had talked about immigration with Ms Marney but claimed it was about “straightforward, mild things” such as points systems, but “nothing of this sort”.
“One of the worrying aspects about this on a political level is that people have used Jo – and they have been able to, of course, because of her comments – in order to attack me,” he told the BBC.
“These are people who have tried in the past to attack me, have found no way of doing it, so now they are going at it through this.”
Mr Etheridge called on party members to contact Ukip’s national executive committee to call for Mr Bolton to be sacked.
He said: “I am resigning as a spokesman for Ukip and focusing in pursuing Brexit through public meetings and rallies.
“I also urge members to contact the NEC to call for the removal of Henry Bolton before his ego finally drags the party down.
“Making sure we get a proper Brexit is the most important thing of all.
“Ukip cannot allow distractions like this to take our attention off the thing that is most important to our country.”