What is Reform UK and how much of a threat is it to the Conservatives?

Former Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson has announced he is defecting to Reform UK.

March 11, 2024, London, England, United Kingdom: Former Conservative deputy chairman LEE ANDERSON joins Reform UK Party. (Credit Image: © Thomas Krych/ZUMA Press Wire) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial USAGE!
Former Tory party deputy chairman Lee Anderson has defected to Reform UK. (ZUMA Press Wire)

Former Conservative Party deputy chairman Lee Anderson has announced he is defecting to Reform UK, after having the Tory whip suspended over comments he made about "Islamists" taking control of London.

Anderson refused to apologise after claiming in an interview with GB News on 23 February that: "I don’t actually believe that these Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is that they’ve got control of (London mayor Sadiq) Khan, they’ve got control of London.

“He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates... If you let Labour in through the back door, expect more of this, expect our cities to be taken over by these lunatics.”

His comments were widely seen as Islamophobic and prompted an immediate backlash, resulting in Anderson's suspension from the party. And, following much speculation about what Anderson's next move would be, he announced on Monday that he has joined Reform UK.

"I want my country back," he said at a press conference. "I don't expect much in politics other than to be able to speak my mind, to speak on behalf of my friends, family and my constituents."

As Anderson defects to Reform UK, Yahoo News takes a look at what the party stands for, and how much of a threat it will be to the Tories at the next election.

What is Reform UK?

Reform UK was founded by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage as the 'Brexit Party' in 2018, with many of Ukip's former members becoming members. The party, which advocated hard-line euroscepticism and a no-deal Brexit, was re-registered as Reform UK in January 2021.

That same year, Farage stepped down and was replaced by party chairman Richard Tice, who is still leader now. Reform's name was tweaked to Reform UK: The Brexit Party in November 2023.

Doncaster, Yorkshire, UK. 24th Feb, 2024. Reform UK leader Richard Tice gives conference a thumbs up while holding up a copy of their draft contract to voters on stage. Reform UK held its Spring conference at Doncaster Racecourse hard on the heels of two good by-election results in Wellingborough and Kingswood where they polled 13 and 10% respectively. Reform UK is regularly polling in double figures and plans to stand candidates in all 650 wards in the next general election. (Credit Image: © Martin Pope/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial U
Reform UK leader Richard Tice gives conference a thumbs up while holding up a copy of their draft contract to voters on stage. (Zuma Press Wire)

Reform's slogan is 'Let's Make Britain Great' - suggesting parallels to Donald Trump's policies. On its website, the party calls for reform in the way Britain is run, saying: "We need to do Brexit properly and save the Union by protecting Northern Ireland. We must grow our way out of the crisis, we cannot tax our way out of it.

"We must stand up for our core democratic values, our civil liberties, our right to free speech. Let’s celebrate our pride in being British: our amazing culture, our unbreakable communities, our incredible heritage. Let’s stop all the woke nonsense that is holding us back."

It also has a hard line on immigration, saying: "Let’s have a proper immigration policy that works for our country and protects our borders. This means net zero immigration so we can train and support our own people. It means zero illegal immigration. Together, let’s make great things happen."

How much of a threat is Reform UK to the Conservatives?

Given immigration is one of the biggest challenges facing Rishi Sunak – from within his own party too – Reform UK could be a realistic threat to the prime minister and the Tories.

Recent voting intention polling from YouGov shows Labour leading with 47 points, the Tories with 20 points and Reform polling not far short of the Conservatives with 13 points. Given that the same data taken in the middle of March last year saw Reform with six points and the Tories with 27 points, Conservatives are right to be concerned about where their support is going.

Reform is gathering support, while the Conservatives are losing it.
Reform is gathering support, while the Conservatives are losing it.

According to some commentators, Tory voters are switching to Reform UK amid concerns that the party has broken its promises around immigration. Luke Tryl, director of More in Common, which describes itself as a "thought leader, a strategy and communications consultancy and an incubator", told the Telegraph that Reform UK was benefiting from new support made up of 'red wall' (or former Labour) voters who delivered Boris Johnson’s landslide in 2019.

He told the newspaper that those voters' reasons for switching included feeling that the Conservatives had “broken promises" on immigration. "There’s a feeling that the Conservative Party have talked a good game but haven’t done anything about it, and that frustration is what you’re now seeing driving some Tory 2019 voters into the arms of Reform,” he said.

ROME, ITALY - DECEMBER 16: British Prime Minster Rishi Sunak attends Atreju 2023, conservative political festival, on December 16, 2023 in Rome, Italy. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's right-wing political party organised a four-day political festival in the Italian capital. (Photo by Alessandra Benedetti - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
According to voting intention data, Rishi Sunak's Conservatives are losing support. (Getty)

What has Anderson said about his decision to join the party?

At a press conference announcing his decision to defect to Reform UK, Anderson said he woukd not apologise for comments he previously made about London being taken over by Islamists, and repeatedly said "I was my country back".

At the press conference in Westminster, he told reporters: “I had 4,000 emails last week in my emails, I had a sack full of mail, not just from my constituency, from all round the country. And when my friends and my family, my staff are telling me to join the Reform Party, then I have to listen.”

The MP, who defected from Labour to the Tories in 2018, added "my country comes first". Asked about the possibility of a by-election, he said: “You’re talking about reckless, it would be pretty reckless for me to suggest a by-election when we could have a general election in May. There’s your answer.”

The former Tory party deputy chairman also said his parents had told him they would not vote for him if he remained a Conservative MP.

"My parents have been saying to me for weeks now, you cannot win, we can’t vote for you being in the Conservative Party. If my parents are saying that, what chance have I got?" he said.