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Reform Leader Says Tories Should Be Terrified Of His Party

Reform UK leader Richard Tice (Alamy)

4 min read

Conservative MPs should be "shitting themselves" about the threat to their seats from Reform UK at the next general election, its leader has warned, as the right wing party enjoys a bump in the polls at the expense of Rishi Sunak's Tories.

Richard Tice told PoliticsHome his party intended to fight the next general election as an "immigration election" – a strategy which risks a further headache for Sunak as he tries to abate right-wing frustration with the government's record on the issue. 

"The last one was 'get Brexit done', the next will be an immigration election," he said. 

The next general election must be called before the end of 2024, with opinions varying on whether Sunak will decide to go to the polls in the spring or autumn. "Prepare for May, expect November," is broadly the assumption among figures at Labour, which has enjoyed a significant poll lead over the Tories for the last year. 

Polling published this week will only exacerbate Tory MPs' concern that their party risks bleeding support to right wing parties like Reform.  A new JL Partners poll reported by Bloomberg indicates 15 per cent of people who voted for the Conservatives at the 2019 general election currently intend to vote for Reform UK next time.

A separate opinion poll for the The i newspaper, conducted by BMG research and published on Sunday night, put Reform's share of voter intention up four percentage points to 11 per cent, with its increase in support seemingly coming at the expense of the Tories.

According to Tice, the bump in support for Reform in recent polling has been fuelled by previous Conservative voters deciding they are "done" with the Tory party.

Tice, formerly a Member for European Parliament for now-defunct Brexit Party, cited Sunak's recent decision to sack erstwhile home secretary Suella Braverman, who holds more hardline views on reducing migration, as a major reason why ex-Tory voters were switching to Reform.

He also claimed that the government's perceived failure to reduce the number of people coming to the UK, both via small boats and legally to fill job vacancies, was contributing to the Conservative party's continued poor polling.

"When the message coming through in emails is people saying their family have voted for the Tories through the generations for 200 years, but they're done with them, you know something seismic is happening," he told PoliticsHome.

"Every per cent [which Reform gains in the opinion polls] is devastating for the Tories. You could be looking at a complete collapse in their number of seats," he added.

"They [Tory MPs] should be shitting themselves."

Tice insisted he would never do an electoral deal with the Conservatives that would make life easier for the Tories come polling day. In 2019, the Nigel Farage-led Brexit Party, which Reform effectively replaced, stood aside in seats controlled by the Conservatives, helping the then-prime minister Boris Johnson to an 80-seat majority. Tice will maintain this stance even if PM Sunak deploys more stringent measures to reduce immigration to the UK, he said. 

"They could offer me five million quid and a peerage and the answer would still be no. This is a proper conviction," he said.

"They [the Conservatives] have broken Britain and they have to be punished, they have to be ousted. My view is they have to be punished," Tice continued.

The issue of immigration has become a major difficulty for the Prime Minister in recent weeks, prompting warnings that the Conservative party risks losing support to Reform as well as Keir Starmer's Labour, and in the south of England to the Liberal Democrats.

The Supreme Court ruling last month that the plan to deport migrants to Rwanda was unlawful triggered anger among MPs on the right of the Tory party, with Sunak facing calls to take the contentious step of overriding international human rights law to get flights in the air.

The government is negotiating a revised deal with the Rwandan government and is preparing to table what it described as "emergency legislation" in a bid to revive the policy. Both the revised deal and the legislation could be unveiled this week, PoliticsHome understands.

Meanwhile, Home Secretary James Cleverly will later today announce a fresh package of measures designed to reduce the levels of legal migration to the UK.

The government came under renewed pressure from angry Conservative backbenchers to take further steps on the number of visas granted to overseas workers and their relatives after data published late last month put recent net migration at a record high.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said net migration in the year up to June 2023 was 672,000, while the figure for the whole of 2022 was revised from 606,000 to 745,000.

Non-European Union immigration has surged since Brexit, despite the claim by some Leave campaigners that leaving the EU would mean less immigration. The two main drivers of the most recent data were international students and health and care workers.

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