Lee Anderson denies being a mercenary with switch to Reform

Former Conservative deputy chairman Lee Anderson said he is no mercenary after joining Reform UK as he denied being paid to switch allegiances.

Mr Anderson also told GB News the Conservative Party had not contacted him ahead of being unveiled as Reform’s first MP.

The MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire had been forced to sit as an independent after being stripped of the Tory whip last month for suggesting London Labour mayor Sadiq Khan was being controlled by Islamist extremists.

He refused to apologise for the remarks that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak branded “wrong”, effectively blocking off any route to being brought back into the Tory fold.

He told the broadcaster: “No, absolutely not. One hundred per cent, don’t be so ridiculous… I’m not a mercenary.

“I’ve had no money.”

Some Tories see Reform UK as a challenger at the general election expected this year with signs of growing support for the party as it polls at around 10% of national voting intention.

Arch Brexiteer Nigel Farage is the honorary president of the party, which is seeking to attract disillusioned Conservative voters, mainly over the issues of immigration and net zero.

Reform finished in third place in two recent by-elections, although its candidate in the Rochdale contest – former Labour MP Simon Danczuk – had a poor showing.

Party leader Richard Tice has ruled out standing aside to avoid splitting the Leave vote in some seats, as the party did under its Brexit Party name in 2019.

He said: “The news broke this morning on social media, my phone was pinging from about six o’clock this morning. I’ve had no contact from the party at all.

“I’d have thought, at that stage, maybe someone would have given me a call to say, ‘hold on, Lee, what you doing? Have a think about it’, nobody.”

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, a former business secretary, said that while he believed the Tories erred in suspending Mr Anderson, he felt it was a “mistake” for him to join Reform because “divided wings of politics lose”.

“We know Reform won’t win the election, but they can… make it harder for the Conservatives,” he told GB News.

“That is why I think Lee made a mistake in going. I think he should have stayed within the Conservative Party to bolster the forces arguing for what he believes in.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg said Lee Anderson had made a mistake joining Reform (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Sunak’s party is considerably behind Sir Keir Starmer’s outfit in opinion polls, with some surveys putting Labour as much as 20 points ahead.

Mr Anderson lost the Conservative whip last month after claiming “Islamists” had “got control” of Mr Khan and London.

At a press conference announcing his defection to Reform on Monday, Mr Anderson — who previously represented Labour as a councillor before jumping ship to the Tories in 2018 — accused the Conservatives of stifling “free speech” by suspending him.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

As recently as January, Mr Anderson had branded Mr Tice a “poundshop Nigel Farage” and said Reform was “not a proper political party”.

Asked what has changed, Mr Anderson told reporters he had been on a “gradual journey”.

He said: “When I find myself suspended for speaking my mind – and, by the way, speaking up on behalf of millions of people up and down the country who agree with me – that for me is unpalatable. It’s a shocker, if I’m honest.”

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