Lee Anderson defects to Reform UK

Former Conservative deputy chair Lee Anderson has defected to Reform UK, becoming the party’s first MP in the Commons.

Mr Anderson, who took the seat of Ashfield in 2019, was kicked out of the parliamentary Conservative Party for refusing to apologise after alleging that London mayor Sadiq Khan was controlled by “Islamists”.

And while some of his colleagues had called for his reinstatement, others accused him of Islamophobia.

Making the announcement of his defection at an event in central London, Mr Anderson told journalists he had done “a lot of soul searching” on his “political journey”, but concluded: “Somebody has to make a stand.”

Politics live: ‘I want my country back,’ declares Anderson

“It is no secret that I’ve been talking to my friends in Reform for a while,” added the MP. “And Reform UK has offered me the chance to speak out in parliament on behalf of millions of people up and down the country who feel that they’re not being listened to.

“People will say that I’ve took a gamble. And I’m prepared to gamble on myself, as I know from my mailbag how many people in this country support Reform UK and what they have to say.

More on Conservatives

“And like millions of people up and down the country, all I want is my country back.”

Mr Anderson was welcomed to the party by its leader, Richard Tice, who said his first MP would be a “champion of the red wall”, who would “tell it as it is, with no nonsense, no waffle”.

But the pair refused to hold a by-election under his new banner, claiming it would be “pretty reckless” so close to an election and would “cost a fortune”.

Mr Anderson began his political career in the Labour Party as a councillor and member of staff for Ashfield’s then MP Gloria De Piero.

But after being suspended by the local organisation, he chose to join the Conservatives and became their candidate for the 2019 election, winning the seat with a majority more than 5,000.

The MP became a controversial voice on the backbenches with his views on immigration and the so-called culture wars, but gained a lot of support from the right of his party and was made deputy chair by Rishi Sunak.

Mr Anderson’s latest defection will come as a blow to Mr Sunak, and a boost to Reform UK – which is currently polling above the Liberal Democrats.