Richard Tice, leader of the right-wing Reform UK party, has denied offering money to Conservative deputy chair Lee Anderson to tempt him to defect.
Tice, a close ally of Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, said he had “numerous discussions” with Tory MPs, ministers and former ministers about joining Reform but denied Anderson’s claim he was offered payment.
“No cash or money has been offered in any way,” the Reform leader told the BBC.
Reform is polling at about 7 per cent in opinion polls and is expected to pick up few if any seats at the next UK general election, likely in 2024.
But the fringe party has the potential to damage the Conservative party by peeling off right-wing voters.
Anderson, in a leaked recording published by the Sunday Times, told Tory activists he had been offered “a lot of money” to join “a party which begins with an R.” He was speaking at a “Lagers with Lee” public event last month at the South Cambridgeshire Conservative Association.
The MP for Ashfield is a hardliner whose view on issues such as benefits, immigration and Brexit have often prompted controversy. He said earlier this month after the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s Rwanda plan was unlawful that ministers should just “ignore the law”.
He was appointed as deputy chairman of the Conservatives in February in an attempt by Rishi Sunak to reach out to pro-Brexit voters who backed the party in swaths during the 2019 general election.
The Conservative party declined to comment on Anderson’s claims.
In 2014 two Tory MPs defected to the UK Independence Partywhich Farage led at the time, in a move that influenced then prime minister David Cameron’s decision to hold a Brexit referendum two years later.
Farage, who is honorary president of Reform UK, is currently boosting his profile by taking part in ITV’s reality show I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, raising questions about a possible return to frontline politics.
Tice told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg program that he had spoken to many Tory MPs who were “furious” with the government’s record on immigration. Official figures this week showed net immigration hit a record 745,000 last year.
“Obviously I will keep those discussions completely confidential but let me make it absolutely clear, no cash or money has in any way been offered, what has been offered is the chance to change the shape of the debate,” he said.
Laura Trott, chief secretary to the Treasury, said on Sunday her party was determined to bring down the number of migrants coming to Britain.
“I’d be very clear that a vote for Reform or any other party which is not Conservative, is a vote for [Labour leader] “Keir Starmer as Prime Minister,” she said.