Do high profile resignations spell the end for UKIP locally and nationally?

UKIP Leader Paul Nuttall speaks at a press conference to announce six key tests for Brexit, at the M

UKIP Leader Paul Nuttall speaks at a press conference to announce six key tests for Brexit, at the Marriott County Hall hotel, Westminster, London Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Will the UK Independence Party (UKIP) exist in 2019, when Britain is due to cut its ties from the European Union? That was the key question for leader Paul Nuttall as he unveiled his six key tests to prove that 'Brexit means exit'.

The party's future is back in the spotlight after the departure of the party's only MP, Douglas Carswell, at the weekend.

But the party is not just experiencing national difficulty.

Mr Carswell's UKIP exit came hot on the heels of the departure of Toby Coke - who until last week was Norfolk County Council group leader, and member of the party's ruling executive. But despite the setbacks, loyal party members remained optimistic about the party's future.

The official UKIP Twitter feed included a picture of (the remaining) national executive members celebrating Mr Carswell's departure with a glass of champagne.

When asked if this was the end for UKIP, Mr Nutall told reporters the party's obituary had been written many times - claiming the party does not need any representation in the House of Commons to influence Britain's exit from the European Union.

He said UKIP 'isn't going away', despite Douglas Carswell going independent on Saturday after declaring it was 'job done' when the UK voted to quit in the referendum.

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High-profile rows are nothing new for UKIP. And former prime minister David Cameron's 2006 description of its members as 'fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists mostly' undoubtedly came back to haunt him. Since his 2006 utterances, the party went from strength to strength.

But while there was fighting talk among diehards in Norfolk - two of who expressed their relief at Mr Carswell's departure - it was qualified with uncertainty about what will happen in local elections on May 4.

Kay Grey, a leading figure in Great Yarmouth, said Mr Carswell had been a 'divisive' figure. She said he had simply been a Conservative who wanted out of Europe and about half of Ukippers would be happy to see him go. Her verdict on Mr Coke was similar. While admitting she didn't know him well, she said he had 'struck me as another Conservative'. But she admits she is not sure what will happen in the upcoming local elections when all 84 County Hall seats will be contested.

While acknowledging that some people will go back to the Conservatives now that Theresa May is set to trigger Article 50, she hopes people will realise UKIP has done some good locally.

While the party may have lost one or two people, she says membership numbers have been 'pretty much the same'.

Labour's woes continue to help the party, she claims.

'People have been getting fed up with Labour for quite a while on a national level,' she said. 'It is certainly not going to hinder us. When we took our 10 seats [in the Great Yarmouth Borough Bouncil elections] we took five of each. I don't think Corbyn is doing them any favours.'

North Norfolk Ukipper Michael Baker, who has been a member of UKIP for a decade, agreed that Douglas Carswell was 'one of the biggest thorns in the side of UKIP'.

He added: 'He was a divisive figure and I for one am pleased to see he has gone to wherever. I don't have a problem there at all.'

Like Mr Nuttall he remains upbeat about the future, seeing a role for the party in 'keeping an eye on' the government's work over Brexit.

And he maintains that UKIP has a role in being a counterbalance to political correctness.

'If you look at the existing parties, they are all much of a muchness,' he said.

'They all want to more or less progress the status quo. We need a party like UKIP which is prepared to be innovative and prepared to say what the public say, and what the public want to said.' And he remains optimistic that UKIP's record of 'speaking differently' at a local level will also work in its favour.

He claimed that UKIP's 2013 campaign to scrap the incinerator and the cabinet system had both been achieved.

'I see a good and bright future for UKIP in the run up to the withdrawal from Europe and beyond that,' he added.

In North Norfolk, he said he had no doubt that the odd one or two members would return to the Conservatives - but while they were losing some members, they were gaining members too.

The party may have had setbacks - but there are members in Norfolk who are keeping the faith.

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