COUNCILLORS have quit a crisis-hit political party which last night was still facing questions over its controversial leader.

Five Ukip councillors in Hartlepool have resigned their membership of the party and will form a new alliance known as Hartlepool Independent Group.

Councillors John Tennant, Bob Buchan, Tim Fleming, Shane Moore and George Springer will all stand as indepedent councillors, and although they will work together on a number of issues, they will not be part of a single party.

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Cllr Tennant said they decision to resign the party membership was so that the councillors are not “distracted by national party political issues”.

However, he refused to be drawn on issues surrounding Ukip leader Henry Bolton, who refused to resign at the weekend after the party’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) backed a motion of no confidence in him following the disclosure that his girlfriend had sent racist messages about Meghan Markle.

In a joint statement, the five councillors said: “We now feel that we can move forward in a positive light and focus our efforts in representing our residents to the best of our ability.

“We have always maintained that residents come first and that we should work to the best interests of everyone.

“As independent Councillors working together we feel that we can achieve more than remaining with UKIP.”

The councillors confirmed that despite withdrawing from Ukip, they still supported Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The statement added: “This decision has not been taken lightly, many of us have given years to UKIP and we regret that we had to make this decision.

“We would like to extend our thanks to the many friends and supporters for their years of hard work and hope that we can still campaign together effectively.”

Tom Hind remains the only Ukip councillor on Hartlepool Borough Council.

Last year, Cllr Hind faced calls to apologise after he said he wanted to ban any Muslims from joining the party, before adding Islam was “not a religion” but a “political ideology”

Phillip Broughton, former Ukip parliamentary candidate in Hartlepool, said the party was on “life support” under Bolton.

“When I stood for party leader in 2016, I warned that the party risked becoming irrelevant which is exactly what has happened.

“My arguments have been proved right, and until these fundamentals change then the party will continue to be in a state of permanent decline.”