Populist campaigner Nigel Farage makes an about-face and says he will run in the UK election – Metro US

Populist campaigner Nigel Farage makes an about-face and says he will run in the UK election

Britain Election
Nigel Farage speaks during a press conference to announce that he will become the new leader of Reform UK and that he will stand as the parliamentary candidate for Clacton, Essex, at The Glaziers Hall in London, Monday June 3, 2024. while on the General Election campaign trail. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

LONDON (AP) — Pro-Brexit, anti-immigration campaigner Nigel Farage stepped back into front-line British politics on Monday, announcing he will take the helm of the right-wing party Reform U.K. and run for Parliament in the July 4 election.

Farage said he’ll run in the seaside town of Clacton-on-Sea in his eighth attempt to win a seat in the House of Commons. His seven previous tries all failed.

The announcement, a headache for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, came just days after Farage said he would not be a candidate because it was more important to support his ally Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election in November.

While Farage stands some chance of defeating Clacton’s Conservative incumbent and getting elected on July 4, he acknowledged that his larger goal is to lead the “real” opposition to a Labour Party government if the governing Conservative Party loses, as many expect.

Farage said he wanted to lead a “political revolt … a turning of our backs on the political status quo.”

He’s aiming to repeat the populist political pressure that pushed for, and then won, a 2016 referendum on taking the U.K. out of the European Union.

“I can’t turn my back on those millions of people who followed me, believed in me,” Farage said. “I’ve changed my mind because I can’t let down millions of people.”

In a bullish announcement speech, Farage, who served as a member of the European Parliament for more than 20 years until Brexit, stuck to his familiar script of decrying career politicians, out-of-touch elites and mass immigration.

The 60-year-old politician also said he would take over as leader of Reform, successor to the Brexit Party. That role has been held since Reform was founded by Richard Tice, with Farage serving as honorary president and charismatic figurehead.

The center-right Conservatives, who have been in office for 14 years, are battling a widespread sense that voters want change. On July 4 voters across the U.K. will elect lawmakers to fill all 650 seats in the House of Commons. The leader of the party that can command a Commons majority — either alone or in coalition — will become prime minister.

The favorite is Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, who pledged Monday to keep the U.K.’s nuclear weapons as he seeks to dispel criticisms that his center-left party is soft on defense..

His campaign is centered on his claim to have transformed the party since he replaced Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime opponent of nuclear weapons and critic of NATO, as Labour leader in 2020.

“My commitment to the nuclear deterrent is absolute,” Starmer said Monday during a campaign appearance at a military museum in Bury, northwest England.

“Nobody who aspires to be prime minister would set out the circumstances in which it would be used. That would be irresponsible, but it is there as part of a vital part of our defense, so of course we would have to be prepared to use it,” he said.

Britain has been a nuclear power since the 1950s, and both Labour and Conservative governments have consistently supported atomic weapons. Since the 1990s, Britain’s nuclear deterrent has consisted of four Royal Navy submarines armed with Trident missiles.

Starmer said his entire top team shared his commitment to the nuclear arsenal, even though several members, including deputy leader Angela Rayner and foreign affairs spokesman David Lammy, voted against renewing Trident in 2016.

Starmer said a Labour government would build the four new nuclear submarines that the Conservatives have already committed to.

He also pledged that a Labour government would increase defense spending to 2.5% of Gross Domestic Product, though he has not set a deadline. Sunak says his Conservatives will meet the target by 2030.

Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system — in which the candidate with the highest number of votes in each area wins — makes it unlikely that Reform could win many seats. But the party could contribute to Conservatives’ defeat in some areas.

Farage has said he is modelling his strategy on Canada’s Reform Party, which helped push that country’s Conservatives to the verge of wipeout in a 1993 election before reshaping Canadian conservative politics.

The U.K. Conservatives, trailing in the polls, have focused their campaign on shoring up its vote by targeting older voters and social conservatives — the groups most likely to defect to Reform. Conservative campaign promises include a boost to the state pension and a plan to make all 18-year-olds undertake a year of civilian or military national service.

The Conservative Party said in a statement that “Farage knows that Reform won’t win any seats, but he doesn’t seem to care that a vote for Reform only helps Labour. He’s doing exactly what Keir Starmer wants him to do.”