UKIP begins inquiry into Woolfe incident
An inquiry into an altercation between two UKIP MEPs that landed one of them in hospital gets under way on Tuesday.
Steven Woolfe was treated in Strasbourg after he collapsed following the quarrel with colleague Mike Hookem at a meeting of UKIP MEPs on Thursday.
UKIP chair Paul Oakden will interview both men and other MEPs and then report to interim leader Nigel Farage.
Mr Farage said he was "not impressed" by the incident but would not get involved "in the blame game".
He insisted that "men behaving badly" was not a feature of his party.
Mr Farage said the probe over Tuesday and Wednesday would attempt "to find out exactly what happened".
He explained: "There was an altercation - two men sized up to each other - I'm not going to get involved in the blame game as to exactly who did what until we've had our inquiry, but I wasn't very impressed by the incident at all."
Asked if UKIP could be taken seriously as a political party following the fracas, Mr Farage referred to other scuffles involving former Labour MPs.
"Hang on - didn't we have a deputy prime minister [John Prescott] punch a member of the public just a few years ago? Didn't we have Eric Joyce - a Labour MP - who assaulted people in a bar in the House of Commons?
"I'm afraid men behaving badly is not just a feature of UKIP - it happens in other political parties.
"I regret we had this horrible incident last week that led to somebody at the end of the day becoming very ill, but I don't think you can judge an entire party on one incident."
Pressed on whether the event highlighted deep divisions within UKIP, Mr Farage retorted: "Things could be a lot worse - we could be the Labour Party, couldn't we?"
Mr Woolfe, 49, is among the favourites to be the party's next leader following the resignation of Diane James just 18 days after she was elected to the role.
He collapsed after the altercation had taken place during a gathering of UKIP MEPs to discuss whether he had been talking to the Conservative Party.
But Elizabeth Jones, a former leadership contender and member of UKIP's national executive committee, told BBC2's Daily Politics that if the internal investigation proves Mr Woolfe had been in talks about defection, "then potentially yes it could suspend him from standing as a leadership candidate".
Mr Woolfe had a row with fellow UKIP MEP Mike Hookem at the meeting, before the pair went outside together.
On Saturday, a spokesman for the UKIP MEP said medical examinations suggested Mr Woolfe had bruising on his face that was not consistent with just a fall or seizure.
He has since tweeted a photo of his "unbruised" hands, saying he did not punch Mr Woolfe.
"I am innocent," he said. "I never threw a punch. I never assaulted him. I will stand my corner."
There have been varying descriptions of what happened and Mr Hookem has said only that he and Mr Woolfe knew precisely what went on.
The fracas is being investigated both by the party and the parliament, with Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim leading the parliamentary probe, and the party expected to report its findings on Friday.
Mr Woolfe has not spoken in public about the episode, but the Daily Mail quoted him as saying Mr Hookem "came at me and landed a blow" after they left the meeting room.
Another UKIP MEP, Nathan Gill, said there had been no police involvement and Mr Woolfe did not want any police involvement.
The row comes amid division in the party over its future direction following the vote for Brexit.
The party is split between those loyal to interim leader Nigel Farage and former Conservatives who support broader policies.
UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge has announced he will stand in the leadership election and Raheem Kassam, Mr Farage's former chief of staff, has also thrown his hat into the ring.