Bennett expects UKIP to back plan to scrap Welsh assembly

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Media caption,

Gareth Bennett: "I don't think they were voting for my charisma"

UKIP's Welsh assembly leader expects the party to back his campaign to abolish the Senedd, saying it would be "strange" to change his main policy.

Gareth Bennett was elected by party members on Friday with his mandate based around scrapping the assembly.

Currently, UKIP policy is to support devolution in the UK, but Mr Bennett says he will have "discussions" with the central party over the issue.

Three of his fellow UKIP AMs have said they do not agree with the policy.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales on Sunday, Mr Bennett says there needs to be a "process of negotiation" with the main party after it chose to back a continuation of devolution in the last assembly elections.

"We can't have a policy in Wales which doesn't dovetail with our national UK-wide policies," he said.

"The UK policies are that we do broadly support the devolved institutions. That policy only changed a few years ago and I'm not sure there was much democratic mandate within the party for that change.

"We will very quickly come to an agreement over where this policy is going to go but clearly that was my main policy I've just been elected leader by the members in Wales so it would be pretty strange if that policy wasn't now going to be implemented."

Image source, Getty/Ashwood Photography
Image caption,
Gareth Bennett (R) beat Neil Hamilton (L) and Caroline Jones to become UKIP's Welsh Assembly leader

Mr Bennett reiterated he wants to have a referendum on the future of the assembly and abolishing it without one would be "ludicrously undemocratic".

He added he would like to see a "beefing up" of the Wales Office and Wales should be run from Westminster as opposed to the "ever-increasing empire that's being built at Cardiff Bay".

UKIP AMs David Rowlands, Caroline Jones and Michelle Brown dismissed the idea that abolishing the assembly would become party policy.

In a statement, Ms Brown said: "Like my other colleagues in the UKIP group, I do not foresee the abolition of the Welsh Assembly becoming party policy, and neither do I think it should.

"There is room in the group and party for different opinions on a range of issues, and I respect that Gareth has a different opinion from the majority of the group on this issue."

Analysis by Paul Martin, BBC Wales News

Gareth Bennett thinks his proposal to abolish the assembly won him the support of UKIP Wales members.

And with Brexit potentially a non-issue by 2021, he feels it would give UKIP something to campaign on at the next assembly election that would differentiate it from the other main parties.

Opinion polling has consistently suggested a clear majority in favour of devolution, and the 2011 referendum on strengthening it was comfortably won by the Yes campaign.

But Gareth Bennett thinks there's enough anti-assembly feeling in parts of the country to make it a worthwhile policy electorally.

However, the policy has an immediate downside for Mr Bennett.

His UKIP colleagues in the assembly Caroline Jones, David Rowlands and Michelle Brown all oppose his policy, while Neil Hamilton has given it qualified support.

So on day three in the job the new leader is already at odds with most of his own AMs.