Taking aim at UK's Sunak, Nigel Farage pledges border control, tax cuts

  • World
  • Monday, 17 Jun 2024

Britain's Reform UK Party Leader Nigel Farage speaks at a Reform UK general election campaign event in London, Britain June 14, 2024. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

MERTHYR TYDFIL, Wales (Reuters) -British Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage pledged on Monday to get migration under control and cut taxes for smaller businesses, using the unveiling of his Reform UK's policy plans to try to poach support from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Conservatives.

Farage, whose entry into the campaign before a July 4 election dealt a further blow to the Conservatives, who are badly trailing the Labour Party in the polls, said only his right-wing party could offer the kind of robust opposition to a government likely to be led by Labour's Keir Starmer.

And while he knew his young party could not win the election this time round, he said the unveiling of his policies was the first step in winning over traditionally Conservative voters to finally overtake the governing party and bring about its demise.

It was a bold play by Farage, one of Britain's most recognisable and divisive politicians, who has pressured governments into more aggressive stances on immigration and helped bring about Britain's 2016 vote to leave the European Union.

While he might finally succeed in his eighth attempt to become a lawmaker if he wins in Clacton-on-Sea, southeast England, his party is unlikely to take more than a handful of seats.

"We are not pretending that we are going to win this general election," Farage said at the launch of a 24-page policy document, which he described as a "contract" with voters for the next five years.

"Our aim and our ambition is to establish a bridgehead in parliament and to become a real opposition to a Labour government," he told an audience in Merthyr Tydfil, a venue chosen to highlight what Reform says is Labour misrule in Wales.

Farage's unexpected entry into the election race - having initially said he would not run and wanted to concentrate on campaigning for Donald Trump in the United States - has split support among Britain's right-of-centre voters.


Reform's policies were designed to suck support from Sunak's Conservatives, focusing on immigration, which has divided the governing party.

Reform promised to immediately freeze "non-essential" immigration, to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, and push migrants arriving by small boats back to France before they land on British shores. It also proposed an extra payroll tax on companies who employ foreign workers.

That tax was one of a raft of measures, including shaving 15 billion pounds ($19.04 billion) off the benefits bill to raise money that would be spent on tax cuts elsewhere, such as increasing the income tax threshold to 20,000 pounds from 12,570, slashing fuel duty by 20 pence per litre and freeing more than 1.2 million small and medium sized businesses from corporation tax.

Carl Emmerson, deputy director at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said even with the extremely optimistic assumptions about how much economic growth would increase, "the sums in this manifesto do not add up".

Farage dismissed any criticism, saying: "We're unashamedly radical, we want change, this isn't working."

But to supporters waiting for Farage to leave a community centre in a deprived part of Merthyr Tydfil, Farage spoke their language - a feeling shared by some voters in Clacton.

With the Labour Party around 20 points ahead in opinion polls, Farage said his focus was now on the election after this one, and that his contract was showing his party's direction of travel to win over more voters.

In one poll last week, Reform overtook the Conservatives, and Farage has set a target of winning six million votes at the July 4 election. Other polls put Reform far behind the governing party.

Since announcing his return, the Reform campaign has made much of Farage and his populist appeal.

The 60-year-old received an expensive private education and worked as a commodities trader but has successfully styled himself as a man of the people taking on an out-of-touch political establishment.

"We want real, genuine change to give us a better, brighter and stronger future and I promise you all this is step one," he said. "Our real ambition is the 2029 general election."

($1 = 0.7878 pounds)

(Writing by William James in London; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Susan Fenton)

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