London (AFP) - The new leader of Britain's UKIP pledged Monday to bring the anti-EU party back together, as he took over from Brexit firebrand Nigel Farage following a tumultuous few months.
Former history lecturer Paul Nuttall vowed unity in the party -- a driving force behind Britain's vote to leave the EU now struggling with infighting and a funding plunge.
"The country needs a strong UKIP more now than ever before," the 39-year-old said, urging the party to keep pressuring the government for "real Brexit".
In his farewell speech, Farage promised he would not be a "backseat driver" in the party but would see out his term as a European Parliament lawmaker -- where he leads the eurosceptic EFDD grouping -- until 2019.
Farage, an ally of US President-elect Donald Trump, said the European project was now "fatally weakened", predicting setbacks in Austria, France, Italy and The Netherlands in the coming months.
"It is UKIP that is seen as the leading eurosceptic group across the entire continent," Farage said at a conference in London where the result of the leadership ballot of party members was announced.
Tensions within the UK Independence Party burst open when newly-elected party leader Diane James stepped down in October just 18 days after winning a previous leadership vote.
Days later a scuffle broke out between UKIP MEPs in the European Parliament in Strasbourg that ended with then leadership favourite Steven Woolfe in hospital.
- Warning on Brexit 'back-sliding' -
Nuttall, from Liverpool in northwest England, was a youth footballer for Tranmere Rovers and survived the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster.
He went on to be a lecturer at Liverpool Hope University.
He joined UKIP in 2004, has been an MEP since 2009 and was the party's deputy leader from 2010.
He pledged to make UKIP "the voice of patriotic Britain".
"Theresa May's honeymoon period is swiftly coming to an end," Nuttall told AFP.
"I think what you will find pretty quickly is that we have a government which is back-sliding on Brexit and betraying the British people and I expect then there will be an avalanche of people joining UKIP."
He said he wanted to unify the party then pinch traditional working-class Labour votes in the English Midlands and the north.
"We believe immigration is good, but we have to be able to control the numbers," he added.
Since announcing his resignation following the EU referendum in June, Farage has ridden the wave of his campaign's success to the United States where he appeared at a Trump campaign rally in Mississippi.
He became the first British politician to meet Trump following the Republican's shock election win.
Trump even recommended Farage as British ambassador to the United States, in a tweet that ruffled feathers in Downing Street, with British Prime Minister Theresa May retorting there was "no vacancy".
"This rotten liberal establishment can be beaten," a triumphant Farage said Monday.
- 2016 a 'historic year' -
In a speech to guests at a lavish party in The Ritz hotel last week posted on YouTube, Farage said 2016 had been "the year of the big political revolution".
Farage's exuberance cannot mask the turmoil engulfing his party, however.
The rightwing group has failed to capitalise on the success of the Brexit campaign, suffering a huge loss in financial support since the referendum, with chief donor Arron Banks voicing doubts about its future.
UKIP emerged from the fringes of British politics after playing a key role in the push for a referendum on EU membership.
Advocating an anti-mass immigration agenda, the party scored the third-highest number of votes in the 2015 general election, taking 12.7 percent of the vote.
However, the party won only one constituency.