James Heale James Heale

Reform’s election launch overshadowed by Farage

Reform UK leader Richard Tice (Getty Images)

It’s been a big morning on the right of British politics. First, net migration figures were published showing 685,000 people arrived in the 12 months between 2022 and 2023. Rishi Sunak then admitted that no flights to Rwanda will take off before polling day on 4 July. This was followed shortly after by Nigel Farage ruling himself out as a candidate in the snap election. Reform UK leader Richard Tice then took to his feet to launch his party’s election campaign.

Tice’s party will likely still hurt the Tories

There was little that was new on policy or messaging as Tice, Reform deputy leader Ben Habib and ex-Tory cabinet minister Ann Widdecombe all attacked the Conservatives on migration. Widdecombe, a former Home Office minister, cited figures which showed that a new house needs to be built every two minutes to keep up with demand. She warned that the number of people coming to the country will have a ‘huge impact on housing’ and a ‘huge impact on health services both local and regional’. ‘Uncontrolled immigration is at the root of so much that is going wrong,’ she warned.

Asked to sum up his message in three words afterwards, Tice replied: ‘Britain needs Reform’, as he listed various areas in which the UK needs change. Arguably a better summary was provided by the party’s YouTube stream which was simply titled ‘2024: The Immigration Election.’

The more interesting story though was not about the rhetoric but rather the logistics of the upcoming election campaign. Reform confirmed it will stand in all 630 seats in England, Scotland and Wales, with 500 chosen already. Habib will try to beat the 13 per cent he won in Wellingborough earlier this year.

Tice, meanwhile, intends to contest the 15th safest Tory seat in the country by standing in Boston and Skegness against Matt Warman. The Tory MP won the seat with a majority of 25,621 or 61 per cent of the vote in 2019. Crucially, polls suggest Boston is the only UK constituency which still has a positive view of Brexit, having voted Leave by 75.6 per cent in 2019. Warman is the deputy chair of the One Nation Group and a well-known figure on the Tory left, with Tice dubbing him a ‘wet’, a ‘socialist’ and a ‘social democrat’ in the press huddle afterwards. The ‘Battle for Boston’ now looks set to be one of the more interesting constituency contests over the next six weeks.

Inevitably though, the event was overshadowed by this morning’s news that Nigel Farage will not be standing as a Reform candidate. Tice’s party will likely hurt the Tories and take a disproportionate number of votes from them compared to Labour. But deprived of their figurehead, Reform may struggle at a national level to make as much headway as they threatened three months earlier.

Watch Reform UK leader Richard Tice on Spectator TV: