Politicians 2016
Nigel Farage and Diane James shared an awkward moment when her leadership was announced in September 2016 Toby Melville/Reuters

Diane James has given her first broadcast interview since resigning as Ukip leader and quitting the pro-Brexit party to sit as an independent MEP in the European Parliament.

James had just spent 18 days in the role before making the dramatic announcement in October. She has now dismissed "irresponsible" claims that the move was because her husband was ill, while revealing she found it hard to get rid of Ukip's "old guard".

"One can obviously continue to bang your head against a brick wall, going to bed at night hoping things might change and that you might be able to make a breakthrough," she told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"But when it became clear I couldn't make that breakthrough, I felt it was the right decision for me and the credibility of the party that someone else assume the mantle."

James, 57, also explained the backstory behind the now infamous photo of former party leader Nigel Farage giving her a congratulatory kiss on the cheek. The image went viral because of James' seemingly awkward reaction.

"Nigel and I spoke just before I went on stage and he said, 'Look this is what we're going to do. The plan is I'm going to give you a greeting and there's going to be a kiss on the cheek'," she said.

"And we agreed which side the kiss was going to be. But anyway something happened... I went to him with the appointed cheek and he went the other way... That's why there was a little bit of awkwardness."

James has now been succeeded by Bootle-born Paul Nuttall, who has promised to "replace" Labour in the north of England and become the "patriotic voice of the working class".

Steven Woolfe, a former leadership favourite, also quit the party to sit as an independent MEP after an "altercation" with Mike Hookem in the European Parliament. The former Ukip migration spokesman warned that the party was "in a death spiral".

Ukip was able to secure a second place in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election in November. But the party saw its share of the vote drop from 17.3% at the general election to 13.5% in the Lincolnshire seat.

The latest national opinion poll from Opinium for The Observer, of 2,000 people between 13 and 16 December, put Ukip on 13%, behind Labour on 31% and the Conservatives on 38%.