Nigel Farage says he is ‘leader of the opposition’ after Reform UK poll boost

<span>Nigel Farage arrives with the party's chair, Richard Tice (right), for an impromptu press conference in Westminster on Friday.</span><span>Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters</span>
Nigel Farage arrives with the party's chair, Richard Tice (right), for an impromptu press conference in Westminster on Friday.Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Nigel Farage has declared himself the real “leader of the opposition” and predicted his Reform UK party will gain more than 6m votes at the general election, after polling ahead of the Conservatives for the first time.

At an impromptu press conference in Westminster, the Reform leader said there was a momentum behind his party, and he “absolutely” believes he will gain more votes than the Tories.

“We are well ahead of the Conservatives in the north-east, the north-west, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands and parts of the eastern region. In what we call the ‘red wall’ seats, we are significantly ahead of the Conservatives.”

He went on to demand that the BBC allow him to take part in a leaders’ debate with the Tories, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP next week, and challenged Keir Starmer to a head-to-head debate on immigration.

“The election is over. Labour has won … but perhaps more importantly who is going to be the opposition voice to Labour in the House of Commons and in the country? I’m putting it to you that I believe that I can be that voice of opposition.”

He urged voters to “join the revolt” of the Reform party, asking them: “What have you got to lose?”

However, Farage also attempted to manage expectations by refusing to say how many seats he thought his party would win. After similar momentum around Ukip in 2015, the party ended up with just one seat in Clacton in Essex – where Farage is running this time.

Related: ‘He was a deeply unembarrassed racist’: Nigel Farage, by those who have known him

He acknowledged that the party was not organised enough to win seats widely and that it would “have to raise a lot of money, very quickly” in order to be competitive against the other parties.

A YouGov survey for the Times this week had Reform at 19% and the Conservatives on 18% in voting intention – which was called the “inflection” moment by Farage. The pollsters gave the caveat that Reform’s lead was within the margin of error.

In an interview with the Times on Friday night, David Cameron warned Farage was intent on destroying the Conservative party and said his “dog-whistle politics” should be rejected. He added that there should be no place in the Tory party for Farage and his “incredibly divisive” approach.

Rishi Sunak earlier responded to the poll by saying that Labour would be handed a “blank cheque” if current polling were replicated at the election.

Speaking to journalists in Puglia, Italy, where he is attending the G7 leaders’ summit, Sunak said: “We’re only halfway through this election right? So I’m still fighting very hard for every vote.

“I always say the poll that matters is the one on 4 July, but if that [YouGov] poll was replicated on 4 July, it would be handing Labour a blank cheque to tax everyone. Tax their home, their pension, their car, their family, and I’ll be fighting very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

He added that there was a “massive difference” between Labour and the Tories, claiming that Labour would “raise the tax burden to the highest level in this country’s history” after Starmer’s party launched its manifesto on Thursday.

“I think that choice will crystallise for people between now and polling day,” the prime minister said.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said Labour was ready to take on Farage and his party.

“We’re going to take him on on the arguments, we’re going to take him on on the issues,” Streeting told GB News. “I think it’s appalling, actually, the way in which he’s had things pelted at him during this election campaign. He’s got every right to be heard.

“We’re going to take him on, on the arguments, and if he’s elected to parliament – and that’s a big if, he’s not been so far – we will take him on in the Commons chamber.”