Gavin Williamson in election row as Reform UK candidate quits Staffordshire race

A Reform UK candidate has pulled out of running against top Tory Gavin Williamson for a Staffordshire seat - and backed the Conservative Party instead. Mr Williamson has denied accusations of 'dirty tricks' after the last-minute defection.

It comes as party leader Nigel Farage has repeatedly pledged not to stand any candidates down to help the Tories.

In messages seen by StokeonTrentLive, Tom Wellings, Reform UK's candidate in Stone, Great Wyrley and Penkridge told supporters "I understand many of you were looking forward to having a Reform UK candidate. However after careful consideration and extensive analysis of recent local polling data I have made the decision to withdraw my candidacy. I care deeply about the future of Staffordshire. Therefore I have decided to support Conservative candidate Gavin Williamson who has considerable experience in government. I am confident Gavin is well positioned to effectively challenge a left wing Labour government."

Furious Reform UK chairman Richard Tice has accused the Tories of 'dirty tricks'.

He said: "Wellings put his papers in on Wednesday and then in the last hour, without telling us, withdrew them. I am challenging Gavin Williamson to say whether money, jobs or a safe seat was offered to Wellings to do this. One of our candidates in the same region was offered a safe council seat and two jobs to stand down. He sensibly rejected the offers and told us what was going on."

Mr Williamson has denied the claims, saying it is 'certainly not the case'.

A Tory spokesperson described Mr Tice's claims as 'utter rubbish'.

The candidates for the Stone, Great Wyrley and Penkridge seat were confirmed when nominations closed at 4pm on Friday, June 7 - with Mr Wellings' name on the nomination papers. The revised list of candidates standing in Stone, Great Wyrley and Penkridge is now: Danni Braine (Green); Alexander Bramham (Social Democratic Party); Jacqueline Brown (Labour); Sam Harper-Wallis (Liberal Democrats); Janice MacKay (UK Independence Party); and Gavin Williamson (Conservative)

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