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Reform UK Will Argue High Net Migration Makes Housing Unaffordable

Ann Widdecombe. Reform UK responds to latest immigration figures (alamy)

6 min read

Former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe, who now campaigns for Reform UK, has said the party will argue the current levels of net migration makes housing unaffordable, as they seek to link their core resistance to immigration to broader policy areas including the health service and the economy.

Widdecombe joined the Brexit Party in 2019 and stood as an MEP in the European elections. She has remained an advocate for the party as it transitioned and changed its name to Reform UK in January 2021.  

Although she will not be standing as an MP candidate at the election, set for 4 July,  Widdecombe will be on the campaign trail for Reform to help spread its message. She cannot "contemplate" turning 81 and spending another five years in Parliament.

Widdecombe told PoliticsHome she knows what she is talking about when it comes to migration, citing her experience as a former immigration minister in a Conservative government. She claimed if the UK can fix legal and illegal migration, and reduce it to sustainable levels, this will help alleviate some of the pressures in the housing market. 

“We will commit to building more homes, and we will commit to building enough, which is the crucial thing," she said.  “But I think what we have to understand is that if you just look at the immigration figures, we would need to be building a home every two minutes in order to accommodate [new arrivals].”

ONS figures released on Thursday showed net migration had reduced by 10 per cent but was still running at more than 600,000 per year. At the same time the UK only built just over 20,000 homes in the first quarter of 2024.

Would Reform therefore be comfortable for developers to build new homes on green fields and reform the Green Belt?

“There's plenty of brownfield sites around us," she said. "Where I live, which is in a national park, there's still a lot of building in surrounding villages, and none of that is on green fields. We will be looking at all options but the main option will not be greenfield.”

Widdecombe said reducing immigration was vital as it "underlies so much else" and affects the UK economy and civil society. 

“The demand on the health service, the demand on housing, the depressing effect on wages. All those things are underlined by immigration," she said. 

“So, when we're talking about immigration, it's not because we want to be nasty, it's because it is having such an impact on the economy. And therefore, whichever party can get on top of immigration, other things will flow.

“Don't forget, I was once an immigration minister in a Tory government, so I do actually know what I'm talking about.

Reform UK has had one representative in Parliament after Lee Anderson, former Tory vice chairman, defected to the party in March. The party is on track to register more than 10 per cent of the vote in the general election without winning a single seat. Anderson, who is standing in Ashfield, is on course to lose to Labour.

“If we have some members of parliament elected, that will be terrific. But mainly we want to focus on the necessity for change,” she said.

“If that pressure causes either of the two major parties to think in that direction, then that’s good."

Ann W and ReformAnderson caused a stir on the Conservative benches in February 2023 when he told The Spectator magazine he was in favour of bringing back the death penalty which was outlawed in 1965. A YouGov poll in 2022 found the public opposes the death penalty by 48 per cent to 34 per cent, but a majority of Britons backed its use when it came to cases of multiple murder, terrorist murder acts and the killing of children. 

Does Widdecombe agree with Anderson – the party’s sole MP – that the death penalty should be  reinstated?

“I have always said that there was a very strong moral case for the death penalty. Because it was proved to be a deterrent in the five years after it's abolition," she said.

"But I also think it's not coming back and that's why, when I was shadow home secretary, I didn't put my efforts there because I knew it wasn't going to happen."

Nigel Farage on Thursday ruled out standing for a seat in Parliament. He claimed he will concentrate on campaigning around the country before going over to America and helping Donald Trump become US President.

Widdecombe felt it would be a “huge advantage” for the party to have Farage to be free to campaign and not tied to a constituency.

“The other parties might wish that he'd stood in the single seat because he's free to do the whole country and he's going to be concentrating on the campaign," she added. 

“Thanks to Rishi, it now doesn't clash with the American election in which he would be involved. And he can spend the next six weeks going around the country telling people why Reform is vital.”

She told PoliticsHome she was convinced the Tory Party “panicked” and called an early election as they were increasingly concerned of a Farage comeback.  

“If you just look at the figures, Reform have gone up from 1 per cent to 15. The Tories have gone down from 36 per cent to around early 20s. The gap was closing,” Widdecombe said.

“The longer he left the election, the closer that gap [between the Tories and Reform] would get. I think the prospect of Farage in itself, which would be worth a few per cent in its own right, did terrify [Sunak]. And they’re right to be terrified.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer will likely be the next prime minister of the UK. A YouGov poll commissioned by The Times gave Labour a 25-point lead over the Conservatives.

Starmer, the former shadow Brexit secretary, had previously called for a second referendum prior to the 2019 election. But since then, he has said there was no case for re-joining the European Union. Added to this he has made no indication he would sign his party up to apply for membership.

Widdecombe said she believed Starmer would not let the UK join the EU but she was concerned what she would do with ‘Brexit’.

“There are two ways of undermining Brexit. One is to just re-join, which we won’t do. The other is to simply build closer relations with Europe and to shadow them," she said. 

Politicians will be fighting for the voters' attention over the summer months as people will be fixated on the Olympics, Euro 2024 and Taylor Swift touring the country. But Widdecombe does not intend to enjoy any downtime. Asked if she herself a 'Swiftie', the political veteran issued an assertive: “No.”

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