Diane James elected as leader of Britain's UKIP, replacing Nigel Farage

Diane James gives an address at the UK Independence Party Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, on the southern coast of England, on Sept 16, 2016.
Diane James gives an address at the UK Independence Party Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, on the southern coast of England, on Sept 16, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

BOURNEMOUTH (Reuters) - Britain's anti-European Union United Kingdom Independence Party elected deputy chairman Diane James its new leader on Friday (Sept 16) to replace Brexit talisman Nigel Farage, who stepped down after helping to win the referendum on EU membership in June.

Ms James, currently a member of the European Parliament, was announced as the party's new head at its annual conference in the southern English coastal town of Bournemouth after a ballot of UKIP's 40,000 members. "We are the political change movement of the United Kingdom," Ms James said, pledging to makes sure Britain acted on the referendum result and left the EU.

A former business analyst with a long career the healthcare sector, Ms James has pledged to ensure the government delivers an exit from the EU that meets the demands of UKIP voters: namely tighter immigration controls and more free trade.

But she will inherit a party riven with factional disputes and struggling to define a clear identity after achieving its No. 1 goal of triggering Britain's exit from the EU.

Mr Farage used his final speech as leader on Friday to demand that his successor pushes for a "hard" EU exit that meets the demands of his party's voters.

The party has suffered a series of bitter rows over its future direction since the Brexit vote and, with its main star Farage stepping down, faces a struggle to retain its influence over voters.

Making his valedictory address at the UKIP annual conference in the southern English resort of Bournemouth, Mr Farage said his party had "changed the centre of gravity" of British politics. But he warned that his successor must not let the government water down the terms of Britain's EU exit.

"We can be very proud of the fact that we won the war but we now must win the peace," he told a crowd of cheering activists. "The only mechanism to put pressure on the government to keep the debate live and to make sure that those 17.4 million people (who voted 'Leave') get what they voted for is for UKIP to be healthy and for UKIP to be strong."

His speech drew rapturous applause from supporters crowded into the conference hall to see the party's star performer.

It set out three criteria by which the success of the government's Brexit negotiations should be judged: whether Britain is outside the single market and free from European regulation, whether it has control of fishing rights in its territorial waters, and whether it has got rid of EU passports.

After the referendum result, Mr Farage said he would step down as leader, and has since lent his experience of leading a popular political uprising to United States presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign.

"I intend this autumn to travel around some other European capitals to try and help independents and democracy movements in those countries too," he said.

Commentators say the UKIP has become so synonymous with Mr Farage, who first led the party from 2006 until and 2009 then took over the reins again the following year, that his departure leaves a huge gap that will be hard to fill.

A close ally of Mr Farage defected to the ruling Conservative Party on the eve of the conference, saying that Prime Minister Theresa May had delivered on key elements of the UKIP manifesto since taking office in July, and that droves of UKIP supporters were doing the same.

Nevertheless, UKIP remains a potent force in British politics.

Led by the charismatic Mr Farage, who successfully tapped into a powerful anti-establishment mood among voters, the party won nearly four million votes at a general election in 2015 and played a key role in persuading Britons to vote to leave the EU.