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What is Reform UK? Everything you need to know as Lee Anderson defects

Lee Anderson has joined the right wing populist Reform UK party following his suspension from the Conservatives for Islamophobic comments about Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

The news was announced by Reform UK leader Richard Tice at a special event in Westminster. Mr Anderson, former Tory deputy chairman, confirmed the move with a scathing attack on the Conservative Party.

“All I want is my country back. Now this may sound offensive to the liberal elite.” he said.

“But it’s not offensive to my friends or family, my constituents and some of my constituents like my mum and dad, who told me they could not vote for me unless I joined Reform UK”.

The move makes Mr Anderson the first-ever MP for Reform UK. It marks a new milestone for the populist party, which has re-risen to prominence over the past few years. However, its roots go back to 2018, and figurehead Nigel Farage.

Here’s everything you need to know about Reform UK:

Could Reform UK win any seats at the next general election?

While it’s unlikely Reform UK will win any seats at the next general election, they could prove to be a difficult obstacle for Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives to overcome.

Recent YouGov polling puts the right wing populist party as high as 14 per cent for voting intention. That places it third after Labour and the Conservatives – and ahead of the Lib Dems or Green.

Mr Tice has said Reform UK’s aim at the next general election is to cause the government to “lose seats,” as the party undercuts the Conservatives on several key issues.

‘Let’s Make Britain Great’ reads Reform UK’s slogan, with key policies including tighter immigration controls, lower taxation, cutting NHS waiting lists, and reforming the BBC and House of Lords.

The party also calls for an overhaul of the government’s Net Zero plans, calling them ‘net stupid’.

Reform UK stood candidates in all three of the February 2024 by-elections, gaining 13 per cent in Wellingborough, 10.4 per cent in Kingswood, and 6.3 per cent in Rochdale.

Mr Anderson’s defection now gifts Reform UK an increased political legitimacy, as the party suddenly gains a voice in parliament.

What is Reform UK?

Brexit Party and 2019 general election

Reform UK was founded with backing from Mr Farage in November 2018 as the Brexit Party. The party was originally led by co-founder Catherine Blaiklock, who stood down in March 2019 following a row over Islamophobic tweets she had written.

Shortly after Mr Farage took over, claiming that Ms Blaiklock was “never intended to be the long-term leader” and dismissing the issue as “teething problems”.

The Brexit Party gained political traction after winning a majority in the UK’s 2019 European elections. Amongst the winners was Brexit campaigner and businessman Richard Tice, who has been chairman since May 2019.

Mr Farage publicly offered a pact to then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of that year’s December general election, offering to withdraw candidates from traditionally Conservative-voting seats.

In return, he asked his party be allowed to run uncontested in traditionally Labour-voting seats.

Although Mr Johnson refused the request, Mr Farage still withdrew 317 candidates from Conservative-voting seats, standing 275 overall.

The party went on to secure no seats at the general election, gaining only 2 per cent of the vote. Despite the poor result, Mr Farage claimed victory, saying that his party had taken thousands of votes from the Tories and quashed hopes of a second EU referendum.

“I killed the Liberal Democrats and I hurt the Labour Party,” he added.

Becoming Reform UK and the Covid pandemic

In November 2020, Mr Farage and Mr Tice announced that they had applied to the Electoral Commission to rename the party to Reform UK. The move was approved in January 2021.

Alongside the rebrand, the pair outlined a new campaign agenda for the party focusing on opposing Covid lockdowns and ‘reforming’ institutions like the House of Lords.

Mr Farage stepped down as leader in March 2021, and was replaced by Mr Tice. In a letter to members, the former UKIP leader said he would remain as the party’s “honorary president” but “relinquish any executive power within the party”.

“I now feel I can do just as much to shift public opinion through media and social media as I can as a campaigning party leader,” he added.

The party unsuccessfuly attempted to gain representation in Wales’ Senedd and Scottish Parliament in 2019 and 2021. At the 2023 local elections, they gained 6 seats nationally, averaging 6 per cent of the vote in wards where they party stood.

On 20 October 2023, Mr Tice confirmed Reform UK would stand candidates in every UK seat and “make sure the Tories lose”.