In blow to UK PM, Brexit champion Farage to stand

Nigel Farage, who helped champion the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union, says he will stand as a candidate in next month's election and will lead the populist Reform Party in a major blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The surprise U-turn by Farage, now a TV host, will boost his movement's profile and challenge Sunak's Conservatives for the support of voters at a time when the governing party is already badly trailing the Labour Party in the polls.

Farage, 60, had previously said he would not stand in the July 4 vote in order to help Donald Trump fight the US election later this year.

But Farage said he changed his mind because he felt guilty not standing up for people who had become disillusioned with politics and had always backed him.

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage championed Brexit to millions of voters who felt ignored by Conservatives and Labour. (AP PHOTO)

"We are going to be the voice of opposition, and I tell you what, I have done it before, I'll do it again, I'll surprise everybody," Farage told a news conference, saying it was a fait accompli that Labour would win but that he wanted to position Reform as its main opponent.

He said he would lead a "political revolt" in the UK because "nothing in this country works anymore," citing problems with public services such as healthcare and roads.

Farage will stand in the parliamentary seat in Clacton, Essex, a resort town in eastern England that overwhelming voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.

Although Farage has stood unsuccessfully for parliament seven times he is still one of the most influential UK politicians of his generation, putting pressure on a succession of prime ministers to take tougher positions on the EU and on tackling immigration.

Shunned by the political establishment and backed by eurosceptic financiers, Farage helped sell Brexit to millions of voters in England and Wales who felt ignored by the main Conservative and Labour parties.

Although he was educated at an expensive school and worked as a commodities trader, he has cultivated an image of an anti-establishment figure.

He is routinely pictured with a cigarette in one hand and a pint of beer in the other.

Farage, who has survived testicular cancer and a plane crash, will also take over as leader of Reform, replacing Richard Tice, who said before Farage took the stage the party wanted a way to "turn on the rocket boosters" to the election campaign.

Divisive and charismatic, Farage has previously made comments that his political opponents have called racist.

Farage appeared in front of a poster during the Brexit campaign showing lines of migrants under the slogan "Breaking Point" and last month said some Muslims did not share British values.

At the last general election in 2019, Farage's party decided not to contest seats held by the Conservatives, then led by Boris Johnson, to avoid splitting the pro-Brexit vote.

Polls suggest the opposition Labour Party is on course for victory this time, with the Conservatives staring at one of the worst results in their history.

Support for Reform runs at about 10 per cent across the UK, giving the party the third highest vote share, polls suggest.

But under the UK's winner-takes-all system, the party had not been expected to win any seats.

A poll earlier this year forecast the Conservatives would win Clacton with Reform coming third.

One betting company said Farage had a 40 per cent chance of winning the seat after his announcement.

Under pressure, Sunak has already tried to win over voters tempted by Reform with policies such as tax cuts for pensioners, the reintroduction of national service and his plan to send illegal asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Asked on Monday if he was worried about Farage entering the contest, Sunak said a vote for Reform would help Labour.