'Our champion of the Red Wall': Reform UK leader praises Lee Anderson amid rumours more Tories are 'ready to defect'

11 March 2024, 18:58 | Updated: 7 May 2024, 12:11

Lee Anderson has defected to Reform UK from the Tories
Lee Anderson has defected to Reform UK from the Tories. Picture: LBC/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

The leader of Reform UK Richard Tice has praised Lee Anderson, who became the party's first MP in history this morning after defecting from the Tories.

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Mr Anderson, a former Conservative vice-chairman, lost the Tory whip after claiming London mayor Sadiq Khan was "controlled" by Islamists and sparking a huge Islamophobia row.

He refused to apologise for the remarks.

Speaking exclusively to LBC's Andrew Marr, Mr Tice said: "Lee and I absolutely see eye-to-eye.

"He's a man of principle and integrity who feels that the two main parties have moved far away from his principles, what he stands for, and together we're going to try and make a real difference.

"He's our champion of the Red Wall and I've said very clearly today that in this coming election and the election afterwards, we are looking to replace the Tory party in the Red Wall as the main alternative to Labour."

'By the summer there is every prospect we will be level pegging with the Tories' says Richard Tice

At a Reform UK press conference earlier today, Mr Tice, leader of the Nigel Farage-founded party, announced Mr Anderson had defected to his party.

Mr Anderson said he had done "a lot of soul searching," but had come to the conclusion he must defect to Reform UK.

"I want my country back," he told the assembled reporters.

LBC Views: Lee Anderson's defection shows the deep Conservative divide as Sunak's authority crumbles, writes Daisy Cooper MP

It comes amid rumours that there are as many as nine Tory MPs that are ready to defect to Reform UK as they fear a Conservative wipeout at the next election.

But Mr Tice was keen to play down any suggestion of this, telling LBC that he would not provide a "running commentary on conversations he had had with Tory MPs".

Lee Anderson has joined Reform UK after defecting from the Tories
Lee Anderson has joined Reform UK after defecting from the Tories. Picture: LBC

Lee Anderson said Reform UK will allow him to speak on behalf of people "who feel that they're not being listened to".

He told a press conference: "It is no secret that I've been talking to my friends in Reform for a while. And Reform UK has offered me the chance to speak out in Parliament on behalf of millions of people up and down the country who feel that they're not being listened to.

"People will say that I've took a gamble. And I'm prepared to gamble on myself, as I know from my mailbag how many people in this country support Reform UK and what they have to say. And like millions of people up and down the country, all I want is my country back."

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Mr Anderson lost the Conservative Party whip last month after refusing to apologise for claiming that "Islamists" had "got control" of London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Mr Tice did not rule out opening the door to Mr Anderson after his suspension, in a move that would give the party its first MP.

Mr Anderson was deputy chairman of the Tory party until he resigned in January to rebel against Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's legislation to revive his stalled plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The now-independent MP has since 2019 represented Ashfield, one of the previously Labour seats in the so-called red wall where voters switched to the Tories after Brexit to give Boris Johnson his landslide victory.

Some Tories see Reform UK as a challenger at the general election expected this year, with signs of growing support for the party.

Reform UK finished in third place in two recent by-elections, although its candidate in the Rochdale contest - former Labour MP Simon Danczuk - had a poor showing.

Mr Tice has played up the danger posed to the ruling party by Reform UK candidates and has ruled out entering any electoral pact with the Conservatives.

He has insisted he would stand candidates in every constituency, unlike in 2019 when his party - then the Brexit Party - stood down candidates to help Mr Johnson.

Arch Brexiteer Mr Farage is the honorary president of Reform UK, which is seeking to attract disillusioned 2019 Conservative voters over the issue of immigration.

Mr Farage, who founded the Brexit Party - later renamed Reform UK - in 2018, has downplayed rumours of a possible switch to the Tories.

James O'Brien on Lee Anderson not calling a by-election

Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper MP said: "Rishi Sunak's authority lies in tatters after the man he personally appointed to be Deputy Chairman of the Conservatives has defected to another party. This is a Prime Minister that cannot govern his own party let alone the country.

“Even now Sunak is too weak to rule out Nigel Farage joining the Conservative Party. It just shows that there is now hardly a cigarette paper between the Conservative Party and Reform.”

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