Nigel Farage is “honourable” in stepping down as leader of UKIP according to one of the party’s leading members.
Jonathan Arnott, MEP for the North East, has said Mr Farage has achieved what he set out to do as he paid tribute to the work he put in to persuade voters to back the Leave campaign in the EU referendum.
All areas of the region except Newcastle voted in favour of the UK to leave the union, with 51.9% across the country supporting withdrawal.
Mr Farage, 52, has had two stints as leader of the party since 2006, and announced he was quitting the post after failing to win a Commons seat in the 2015 general election, only to change his mind days later.
He said: “During the referendum campaign, I said I want my country back. “What I’m saying today is I want my life back, and it begins right now.
“UKIP is in a good position and will continue, with my full support, to attract a significant vote.
He will still be carrying out his duties as an MEP and will carry that on with his usual vim and vigour.
“Whilst we will now leave the European Union, the terms of our withdrawal are unclear.
“If there is too much backsliding by the Government, and with the Labour Party detached from many of its voters, then UKIP’s best days may be yet to come.”
Mr Arnott said he was “shocked but not surprised” by the announcement.
He added: “Nigel is the greatest orator of our time and the very first thing that should be said is credit should be given for the hard work he has done for the party.
“He has worked 18 hours a day flat out, seven days a week and he has been absolutely incredible in doing that.
“If he feels the time is right to stand down, then let him get on with that.
“Where we go from here, first of all we need to look at the approach from our party, but we will go about holding the Government’s feet to the fire in relation to Brexit and will play a huge role in negotiating for the UK.
“After that, we will look at what opportunities come from being independent.
“There is a huge challenge facing the country.
“We are looking at a leadership election and we might hear from different candidates, who will articulate their position.
“It is far too early for me to say who the runners and riders will be and I think it would be quite tasteless, being that Nigel has just stood down, to say who will take his place.”
Mr Arnott said it was not a case that Mr Farage was now stepping back because of the difficult situation created by the outcome of the referendum.
He added: “Nigel is still going to stick around to be leader of the European parliament group and of course he’s going to play a major role, but what are we saying if somebody says they are going to do a job that they set out to do, that they have to stick around for years in case somebody then has an issue with it.
“I think it is quite an honourable thing to do, for Nigel to say that he’s achieved what he set out to do and now he’s going to let someone else take it from there, and that’s quite a rare thing in politics.
“He will still be carrying out his duties as an MEP and will carry that on with his usual vim and vigour.”
In the North East, UKIP is also the official opposition to the Labour party on Hartlepool Borough Council and has members on Hetton Town Council.