Tory hopes up in smoke? Nigel Farage's dramatic intervention turns heat on Sunak ahead of tonight's TV debate

Tory hopes up in smoke? Nigel Farage's dramatic intervention turns heat on Sunak ahead of tonight's TV debate

Nigel Farage went to war with the Tories over immigration and Europe as Rishi Sunak’s party came under its most intense pressure so far in the election campaign.

As British politics was rocked by Mr Farage’s U-turn to become Reform UK leader, Home Secretary James Cleverly acknowledged the possibility of Labour winning with a “large majority”.

The Cabinet minister unleashed a personal attack on Mr Farage as he sought to stop Right wing voters peeling away from the Tories to Reform.

But Mr Farage set his sights not on beating the Conservative Party at the election, but “taking it over” after July 4 polling day when Rishi Sunak’s party is set to suffer a historic defeat, according to a YouGov poll, including the prospect of having zero Tory MPs in Inner London.

The veteran Eurosceptic’s intervention has electrified the election and on Tuesday he launched Reform’s campaign in Clacton, Essex, where he will seek to become the MP, having failed repeatedly in the past to get into Parliament.

Amid the glaring failures to deliver the much-promised benefits of Brexit which he and other Leave campaigners trumpeted in 2016, some voters are likely to be sceptical about Mr Farage’s latest political venture.

But he has proved that he can connect with other voters and any Reform success is likely to hit the Tories hardest.

Tuesday’s Evening Standard front page (Evening Standard)
Tuesday’s Evening Standard front page (Evening Standard)

On Mr Farage’s decision to become Reform leader, Mr Cleverly told GB News: “It’s interesting that he has changed his mind on this.

“It wasn’t that a long ago when he was questioning whether he really wanted to spend every Friday listening to the people of Clacton.”

He then argued that voting for Reform would make it easier for Labour to win.

Appearing to harden his Right wing rhetoric in the face of the new electoral threat from Reform, Mr Cleverly then stressed: “A Labour government, particularly one that has a large majority, of course would look at taking us back into the European Union’s sphere of influence, aligning ourselves with the European Union, opening our borders with free movement once again, taking the knee, all the things that I think most British people are uncomfortable with, and certainly that anyone that was thinking of voting Reform, I think, would be very uncomfortable with.”

Less than half an hour later, Mr Farage went on the offensive, accusing the Conservatives of repeated “lies” on immigration and of “betraying” millions of voters over getting control of Britain’s borders.

He also said Reform’s aim would be to get “net migration at zero”.

But he was grilled on BBC radio over whether this would mean fewer midwives working in Britain’s hospitals, fewer butchers and other skilled workers such as architects being allowed to come and work in the UK, responding that they would be allowed to do so in “limited” numbers.

Later, he set out his goal for Reform UK to effectively take over the Conservative Party, comparing the situation to Canadian politics, where Stephen Harper was elected as a Reform MP and went on to head a “new Conservative” government.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I don’t want to join the Conservative Party, I think the better thing to do would be to take it over.”

Mr Sunak, who suffered a double blow on Monday with Mr Farage’s announcement and a new YouGov poll showing a historic landslide victory for Labour, is proposing a new annual cap on visas to ensure immigration would fall each year over the next Parliament.

More than 10,000 asylum seekers and economic migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year after crossing the Channel and immigration has become a key campaign battleground.

The proposed Tory plan would give Parliament a direct role in setting levels of migration, with MPs having a vote on the number.

The Prime Minister said: “We have taken bold action to cut the number of people coming to this country. The plan is working but migration levels are still too high, so we are going further.”

However, he has failed to get any deportation flights off to Rwanda and has admitted that is not likely to happen before the general election on July 4.

In other key developments on day 13 of the campaign:

* Mr Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer were preparing for the first of the election TV debates, at 9pm on ITV, on Tuesday.

* Sir Keir argued that his plan for a publicly-owned clean energy company, GB Energy, would help to protect the UK from spikes in the price of fuel like those that followed Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

* The Liberal Democrats said that day-to-day care for adults in need, including the elderly and disabled, would be free in England if they were in power.

Party leader Sir Ed Davey said: “As a carer for my disabled son, and after caring for my ill mother when I was young, care is deeply personal for me.”

On Mr Farage’s intervention, Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator Pat McFadden said: “I don't think he changes it from our point of view. It's a democracy, he's entitled to stand, anyone's entitled to stand and put the case in this election.

“We will just keep focusing on the public, keep making the case for change. In the end, there's only two possible governments after July 4 - it's either going to be five more years with the Conservatives or change with Labour."