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Tice fury as Reform UK candidate pulls out of race and backs Tories

In Europe
June 08, 2024

A Reform UK candidate who was due to contest Sir Gavin Williamson’s seat has withdrawn from the race and endorsed the Conservatives.

Tom Wellings had been confirmed to fight the new seat of Stone, Great Wryly and Penkridge in Staffordshire for the Right-wing party.

But it has since emerged that, despite apparently submitting his nomination papers on Wednesday, he has withdrawn from the contest, saying he was concerned that his candidacy risked handing victory to Labour.

According to a furious Richard Tice, the Reform chairman, Mr Wellings did so at the last minute without informing the party – giving Sir Gavin, a former defence and education secretary, an easier path to victory.

It means Reform – which enjoyed a huge boost in profile last week with the return of Nigel Farage to front line politics – looks set to fail in its ambition to field a candidate in every constituency.

Reform is believed to be fielding 611 candidates, rather than the 630 it hoped for, with the deadline now having passed.

In comments reported by The Mirror, Mr Wellings said: “The polls indicate that Labour is close to winning the seat in our constituency. This is a matter of deep concern to me, and should be to anyone who supports the policies and agenda of Reform UK.

“Given the current political landscape, my continued candidacy risks splitting the vote, thereby increasing the chances of a Labour MP being elected.

“Therefore, I have decided to support Gavin Williamson, who has considerable experience in government. I am confident Gavin is well positioned to effectively challenge a Left-wing Labour government.”

However, Mr Tice accused the Conservatives of “dirty tricks”, telling The Mirror: “Wellings put his papers in on Wednesday then in the last hour without telling us withdrew them. I am challenging Gavin Williamson to say whether money, jobs or a safe seat was offered to Wellings to do this.”

Sir Gavin told The Independent: “This is certainly not the case”, while a Conservative spokesman described the accusation as “utter rubbish”.

There are fears at Conservative headquarters that some of the party’s candidates might defect to Reform. Tom Hunt, the incumbent Conservative for Ipswich, put a message out on Friday suggesting he was sympathetic to Mr Farage’s party but would continue as a Tory.

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