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UKIP leadership: Bennett says he will stand and campaign to abolish Assembly

A third UKIP AM has said he will stand in the party's forthcoming election to choose a new leader of its Assembly group, promising to campaign for a referendum on whether or not the Assembly should continue.

Gareth Bennett says he will also use his leadership bid to "row back against the increasing cost of the Welsh language provisions."

He is no stranger to controversy, having been banned from speaking in the Assembly chamber earlier this year after comments he made about transgender rights.

The AM for South Wales Central says he's "the only candidate with radical policies" and that other leadership contenders "are just offering things that are little different from the mainstream parties."

His decision to join the contest follows the recent confirmation by the former group leader Neil Hamilton, who was ousted by AMs in favour of Caroline Jones in May, that he will try to win back the role in the ballot. He remains leader of the party in Wales. You can read more details here and here.

Explaining why he had decided to enter the contest, Gareth Bennett said he wants to "stand up for free speech" and fight to give people a say in a new referendum on whether or not the Assembly has worked.

In the UK, the big issue apart from Brexit is probably free speech versus political correctness.

People like me have to stand up for free speech, or we will end up living in a police state.

In Wales, the people now need to be able to have their say on whether or not they think that the Welsh Assembly serves a useful purpose. The last referendum, in 2011, was a complete con trick, as people who did not support the existence of the Assembly had no option to vote for. We now need to have a meaningful referendum on this. In May 2024, the Assembly will have been in existence for 25 years – maybe that is a good time to consult the people of Wales as to whether it has worked.

– Gareth Bennett AM, UKIP

That position puts him at odds with the party's official policy which is now to support devolution following two referendums.

The ballot of UKIP's approximately 800 members in Wales was ordered by the party's leader Gerard Batten as a way of settling the infighting amongst the Assembly group.

Seven members took their seats in the Senedd in 2016.

To begin with they were led by Nathan Gill, who's also an MEP, but he left first the group and then the Assembly after being deposed by Neil Hamilton.

He was replaced as North Wales AM by Mandy Jones who also sits as an independent but remained a UKIP member until she was suspended while a disciplinary process looks into her public criticism of Neil Hamilton.

Another AM, Mark Reckless, left the group and now sits as an independent but works with the Conservative group.

Even with only five members, the infighting has continued with one member describing the group to me as like 'rats in a sack.'

It's thought that a deadline for nominations in the Wales-wide ballot has been extended until the end of this week.