Bill Etheridge 'quits Ukip leadership race and backs Paul Nuttall'
Ukip leadership candidate Bill Etheridge has withdrawn from the contest and called on rivals to back current deputy leader Paul Nuttall, according to reports.
The West Midlands MEP said Mr Nuttall's declaration on Sunday had prompted him to step down, as he was the only candidate who could unite the party as it dealt with "recent well publicised problems".
Mr Etheridge was one of eight people vying to lead the party, with Mr Nuttall and former Conservative councillor Suzanne Evans viewed as the frontrunners.
In a withdrawal statement reported by the BBC, Mr Etheridge said: "I always said that if a candidate better suited to take this party forward emerged I would back down and support them. That candidate has emerged.
"Paul Nuttall is not only a personal friend and an honourable man but I believe he is the only person who can effectively unite our party after the recent well publicised problems we have suffered.
"I will be supporting Paul and giving him my 100% backing. I call on all other potential candidates to follow my example and withdraw from the race to allow Paul to go forward from here and unite our party."
Former party chief Nigel Farage stepped back into his role on a temporary basis after the resignation of Diane James just 18 days after she had been elected leader by Ukip members.
Ukip was then rocked again when Steven Woolfe, who was the frontrunner to replace Ms James, left in the wake of an altercation with another party member after which he ended up in hospital.
Mr Etheridge had promised to unite the party's warring factions after months of infighting described by Mr Woolfe as a "death spiral of their own making".
As he quit the race Mr Etheridge, who was elected in 2014, said he believed Ukip "must remain a patriotic, libertarian party standing for the individual against the over-powerful state, and not be tempted into cultural nationalism and the so-called centre ground on economic policy."
His withdrawal leaves seven candidates in the contest, after former Ukip parliamentary hopeful John Rees-Evans announced his intention to stand on Monday.