Multiple Tory MPs are in defection talks with Reform UK, the populist party’s leader Richard Tice has claimed.
The former Brexit Party MEP claimed “more than one” Conservative MP has been using secret backchannels to discuss the possibility to switching allegiances.
However, the return of Nigel Farage threatens to wreak the most havoc on Tory benches as the ex-Ukip leader is expected to provide Reform UK with a significant poll boost.
Farage managed to woo two Tory MPs to join Ukip ahead of the 2015 General Election.
Reform Party leader, Richard Tice, and founding member, Nigel Farage, on stage at the Reform Party annual conference on October 7, 2023
Clacton MP Douglas Carswell and Rochester & Strood MP Mark Reckless retained their seats after crossing the floor in subsequent by-elections.
However, the Tories would eventually overturn Reckless’ 2,920-vote majority to win the Kent seat by 7,133 ballots less than a year later.
Speaking to The Sun on Sunday, Tice suggested Red Wall Tory MPs were among those considering defecting.
He said: “There is increasing desperation in the Red Wall.
“Some Red Wall Tories have been scoping out defecting to us – through third parties. There is more than one.”
A source close to Reform UK added: “If Nigel Farage decides to come out and campaign for Reform with full gusto, that trickle of MPs talking about defecting could become a stream.”
Tice’s comments come just days after the Reform UK leader extended an olive branch to former Tory deputy chairmen Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith to defect to the populist party.
Responding to Tice’s overtures, Anderson said: “He’s a good man, he’s a great man. I like him and I class him as a friend but I think the best way forward to solve this problem is a strong Conservative Party with strong MPs like myself.”
Rishi Sunak saw off a right-wing rebellion last week over his Safety of Rwanda Bill after 58 Tories backed amendments to bolster the legislation.
The rebellion fizzled out by the third reading, with just 11 Tories voting against and 18 abstaining.
However, the Prime Minister was dealt a fresh blow just days later after a YouGov opinion poll put the Tories on just 20 per cent.
Reform UK managed to end up in third place on 12 per cent, marginally below Ukip’s overall vote share in the 2015 General Election.
Ukip received 3.9 million votes, returned Carswell to the Commons and finished in second place in 120 constituencies.
The Brexit Party formed a non-aggression pact with Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in 2019 by standing down candidates against incumbent Tory MPs.
Speaking at a press conference earlier this month, Tice said: “You’ve all broken Britain, you’re all responsible. There’s no special deals. We stand in every single seat in England, Scotland and Wales.”
Despite seeing steady growth in the opinion polls, Reform UK has not yet been able to leave its mark in by-election contests.
Tice’s party averaged just 2.85 per cent of the vote in 16 contests, only exceeding five per cent in Old Bexley & Sidcup and Tamworth.
Ukip performed notably better ahead of the 2015 general election, winning Clacton and Rochester & Strood following two defections.
Farage fell agonisingly short of securing another by-election victory in Heywood & Middleton but managed to finish in second place in all four other contests between 2013 and polling day.
The Brexit Party also performed markedly better in the two by-elections held in 2019, receiving 28.9 per cent of the vote in Peterborough and 10.5 per cent of the vote in Brecon & Radnorshire.
Reform UK’s struggles extend to recent local election campaigns, averaging just six per cent of the vote in wards where it fielded candidates in 2023.
Ukip averaged 19 per cent in the wards it contested in the last equivalent poll in 2019.
However, February 15 could prove an enormous test for Reform UK as they hope to plunge Sunak’s premiership into further chaos in Kingswood and Wellingborough.