By Gilbert Reilhac and Michael Holden
STRASBOURG/LONDON Steven Woolfe, a leading candidate to be the new leader of Britain's anti-EU UK Independence Party, was in hospital after suffering "epileptic-like" seizures on Thursday following an "altercation" at a heated European Parliament meeting on the party's future.The incident took place at a meeting of UKIP's European Parliament lawmakers, or MEPs, held to discuss what direction the party, riven by factional infighting since Britons voted to leave the European Union in June, should take.Brexit has shaken all parties across the British political spectrum, leading to Conservative Theresa May replacing David Cameron as prime minister, a leadership election in the opposition Labour Party and deep division in UKIP as to its purpose now it has achieved its number one goal of securing EU withdrawal.The party was plunged into chaos on Wednesday when its leader Diane James quit just 18 days after being elected to replace the charismatic and well-known Nigel Farage who announced he would step down after the vote for Brexit. Woolfe had angered some in his party when he said he would stand as a leadership candidate to replace James but then also admitted he had considered defecting to join May's ruling Conservatives."I deeply regret that following an altercation that took place at a meeting of UKIP MEPs this morning that Steven Woolfe subsequently collapsed and was taken to hospital," Farage, who has resumed his role as interim UKIP leader, said in a statement.Woolfe collapsed and lost consciousness outside the EU legislature chamber and pictures showed him sprawled face down, still clutching a briefcase on a walkway in the parliament building containing MEPs' offices. "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," Woolfe said in a statement from hospital. Scans had shown he had no blood clot on the brain but he was being kept in hospital overnight for more tests.
A UKIP spokesman said Woolfe, who was marking his 49th birthday on Thursday, had passed out and had two "epileptic-like fits" (seizures) but tests had shown no bleeding on the brain.Roger Helmer, one of the UKIP MEPs at the meeting where the altercation occurred, said there had been "a lively exchange of views"."HIT HEAD ON WINDOW"
UKIP's Welsh leader Neil Hamilton, who was not at the meeting but said he had been given an account of what had happened by an eyewitness, said Woolfe had been knocked over and hit his head on a window. "Steven I think picked a fight with one of them and came off worse," Hamilton told BBC TV. "It's most unfortunate but passions obviously run high."French police and prosecutors in Strasbourg told Reuters that they were not investigating the case for the time being. A parliamentary official said the incident was being treated as an internal matter for UKIP for the time being and that no disciplinary procedure had been started. UKIP has 22 MEPs, two more than either the Conservatives or Labour, after winning the May 2014 European Parliament election on a surge of eurosceptic sentiment that saw former prime minister Cameron agree to hold a referendum on quitting the EU.
Farage, who leads UKIP in the European parliament, resumed overall leadership of the party on Wednesday after James quit less than three weeks into the job saying she did not have sufficient authority or the full support of UKIP MEPs.Hours later Woolfe said he would be putting his name forward to be the new leader but caused internal consternation when he said he had recently flirted with leaving the party."I have been enthused by the start to Theresa May's premiership," he said in a statement announcing his candidacy."In the last few weeks I have thought long and hard about my political future and how I can best help build the Brexit Britain we voted for in June."Woolfe had been the original favourite to take over from Farage but was excluded from the leadership ballot after submitting his nomination papers late. (Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels and Estelle Shirbon, Kylie MacLellan and Kate Holton in London; Editing by Stephen Addison and Jeremy Gaunt)
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First Published On : Oct 6, 2016 22:05 IST