Ann Widdecombe joins Reform UK as party aims to ‘obliterate’ Tories
Ann Widdecombe, the former Tory minister, has joined Reform UK as the party sets its sights on “obliterating” the Conservatives at the next election.
Ms Widdecombe, who briefly served as a Brexit Party MEP prior to the UK’s departure from the EU, said she had taken the leap from “political homelessness” because “it is very clear that it is the only way to save the Union”.
Speaking at a press conference in London alongside Richard Tice, the Reform UK leader, she said the “final straw” was Rishi Sunak’s presentation of his new Brexit deal, accusing the Government of telling “a load of lies” to obfuscate its true contents.
Reform UK – described by Nigel Farage, its honorary president, as a “direct descendent” of his now-defunct Brexit Party – has vowed to fight all seats at the next election, targeting both Labour and Tory voters.
Ms Widdecombe was one of seven former Brexit Party MEPs to announce they were joining on Monday, having opted not to sign up when the party was first established.
However, only one of the new members at the press conference, Ben Habib, would commit to standing as an MP at the next election. Alexandra Phillips, who was already on board, also said she would run.
Mr Habib said his aim at Reform was to “obliterate” the Tory party because “they are not Conservative”, pledging: “I will not step down.”
Mr Tice declared “the band is re-forming” as “we continue this journey of growth”, but admitted the party faced a “big job” preparing for the next general election.
Meanwhile, Mr Farage dismissed talk that he could return to the political frontline, saying his role at Reform would remain “honorary and advisory”. He warned that “Brexit has not been completed” and “regulations have not been axed”.
Ms Widdecombe claimed the “Stormont brake” was “so hedged” that it was “virtually impossible” for Northern Ireland to veto EU laws it did not want.
She also suggested there may be little prospect of a Tory rebellion over the deal because MPs are “putting the party before the union” as “they can see a general election on the horizon”.
Ms Widdecombe said: “When the Brexit Party dissolved and morphed into Reform, I did not join Reform.
“There were various reasons why I didn’t. But now the reason that I’m joining Reform, along with another 10 of the former Brexit Party MEPs, is because it is very clear that it is the only way to save the Union.
“I do not believe that that is an exaggeration. We have left Northern Ireland in the single market while the rest of the UK has withdrawn and yet... it was made extremely clear in the Conservative Party manifesto that when we left the EU we would leave as one United Kingdom.”
Defending the Windsor Framework, Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said: “We think this delivers on fixing the long-standing problems that have hindered individuals and businesses and caused such problems both for Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole.
“With regard to EU regulations, these have been reduced right down to the very minimum level to ensure there is no border on the island of Ireland, and I think that is the overriding priority of all parties in protecting and securing the Good Friday Agreement.”
Asked whether Reform was in talks with any disillusioned Tory MPs, Mr Tice said: “We welcome help from all quarters, and there’s no question there are some very disaffected Tory MPs.
“But what we’re seeing at the moment is a sort of ‘support Sunak’ operation that... frankly, is disgraceful, because they are trying to prop up their failing party as opposed to doing what is right for the country.”
Mr Tice said a total of 11 former Brexit Party MEPs had now joined Reform, insisting: “We mean business.”