No pre-vote deals with Conservatives, says UK’s right-wing Reform party

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s right-wing Reform UK party pledged on Wednesday to bring down the “toxic Tories”, saying it would do no deals with the governing Conservatives who fear Reform could draw votes from some of their traditional supporters.

With a national election expected this year, the Conservatives and opposition Labour Party have all but kicked off their campaigns, but both face challenges from smaller parties such as Reform UK and the centrist Liberal Democrats.

Some Conservatives had hoped Reform would make a similar deal as it did under its former guise as the Brexit party, when at the 2019 election it did not field any candidates in hundreds of Conservative voting areas so as not to split the vote.

Instead Richard Tice, leader of Reform UK, which includes better-known Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage as its honorary president, ruled out such deals. He nudged those Conservative lawmakers who are critical of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s attempts to tackle illegal migration to defect to his party.

“I can be absolutely categoric that we are not doing any deals with the Tories (Conservatives). We will stand everywhere in England, Scotland, (and) Wales,” Tice told a news conference.

Though Reform UK could eat into some of the Conservative voting base, it is unlikely to win any seats in parliament due to Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

Tice was asked about the comments of one Conservative lawmaker who said Reform posed a bigger risk to the party than Labour, which commands a hefty lead in the opinion polls.

“The honest truth is there are quite a number of Tory MPs (lawmakers) in a similar position,” he said. “Stop staying with the toxic Tories, stop defending the indefensible, be brave, be bold, come on over. We want quality.”

He again said Farage, a figurehead for Britain’s 2016 vote to exit the European Union, might become a more active presence in Reform UK after starring in a reality TV show, but that for him, as a good “poker player”, he was waiting for the right time.

With tough calls for restricting immigration and scrapping Britain’s net-zero goals, Reform UK is expected to attract some traditional Conservative voters, possibly depriving the party of victory in some of its more loyal constituencies.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Mark Heinrich)