Tory Manchester mayoral candidate defects to Reform UK

<span>Dan Barker’s defection is a blow to the prime minister as he tries to push a united front for Conservatives.</span><span>Photograph: X</span>
Dan Barker’s defection is a blow to the prime minister as he tries to push a united front for Conservatives.Photograph: X

The Conservative candidate for the Greater Manchester mayoral election has defected to Richard Tice’s rightwing Reform UK party.

Dan Barker was selected only three months ago as the Tory candidate to challenge the incumbent mayor, Labour’s Andy Burnham, in May’s elections.

On Thursday he announced that he had joined Reform UK – becoming the second high-profile Conservative to join the fledgling populist party after MP Lee Anderson’s defection earlier in March.

Barker’s move came on a day when Reform said it had sacked two more of its general election candidates, after removing another on Wednesday, over comments on their social media feeds.

In a post on X, Barker said Reform UK is the party that represents ordinary people: “Delighted to be joining the new home of conservatism with Reform UK. Reform represents the ordinary people of this country.”

A Reform spokesperson said: “Reform is delighted that Dan Barker has joined us. He is an excellent candidate and will be a great representative for Reform and Manchester.

“He knows that today, if you believe in the future of this city, and this country, then Reform is to the future as the Tories are to the past.”

The Conservatives have until 5 April to select a new candidate for mayoral elections which take place on 2 May.

While Barker was unlikely to win, his defection is a bitter blow to Rishi Sunak as he tries to present a united front for the Conservatives ahead of the local and mayoral elections.

The threat from Reform is increasingly grave for the Conservatives ahead of the general election..

A YouGov poll published on Thursday showed Reform at 15% support nationally, just four points behind the Conservatives, and ahead of the Liberal Democrats.

Reform UK sacked three of its general election candidates in 24 hours over comments that were highlighted on social media feeds.

The party said Roger Hoe, a Yorkshire businessman, was removed as the candidate for Beverley and Holderness on Thursday after it emerged that an account on X in his name had tweeted material including praise for the far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

Reform also dropped Ginny Ball as its Rutland and Stamford candidate after the exposure of a range of racist comments on her social media feed, including comments calling for the deportation of black British-born public figures.

Later on Thursday the party removed Benjamin “Beau” Dade, Reform’s candidate for Swindon South.

It came in the wake of claims put forward by the counter-extremism group Hope Not Hate that he was a rightwing influencer who had fantasised about deporting “millions” of UK citizens so the nation could “rid itself of the foreign plague we have been diseased with”.

Hope Not Hate said Dade had published a “policy roadmap” for the Mallard website, a little-read far-right outlet, in late 2022 in which he called for the deportation of “potentially millions of foreigners and their dependants who have come here since 1997”.

A Reform UK spokesperson told the Guardian: “His comments were brought to our attention, and we acted. Other parties might learn from this.

“Clearly our vetting process is now taking place in public and everyone is now being re-vetted.”