Reform UK deputy leader Habib ‘saddened by split within political unionism’

Reform UK deputy leader Ben Habib has said he is saddened by a “split” within political unionism and vowed to create a “pan-UK political force”.

Mr Habib was speaking at an event at Dromore Orange Hall in Co Down, Northern Ireland, alongside Ann Widdecombe and Baroness Hoey.

He also shared a platform with TUV leader Jim Allister following the agreement of a link-up between the two parties.

Mr Habib has been criticised in recent days over comments he made in a TV interview around migrants in small boats crossing the English Channel.

He said those attempting to reach Britain in small boats should “suffer the consequences”.

Mr Habib told the PA news agency that the TV debate was “taken to a ridiculous level”, and stressed that the only way to stop the small boats was to do so physically.

He claimed that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda or the changing of any domestic legislation would not work.

“The only way to stop the boats is to physically stop the boats. Reform UK’s policy is to stop the boats and take them back to France,” Mr Habib added.

Mr Allister welcomed Mr Habib, Ms Widdecombe and Baroness Hoey as “our compatriots and fellow UK citizens”.

He hailed Mr Habib as “the man who stood up for the Union when others were nowhere to be seen” and criticised the DUP’s backing of the Windsor Framework, contending that “not one word of the Union-dismantling protocol has been changed”.

“TUV/Reform UK is in the business of reuniting the United Kingdom,” he said.

“Reunification is our cause. Not for us, half in half out of the UK, half ruled by British laws, half ruled by foreign EU laws.

“The first step for unionism in reuniting the United Kingdom is rejecting the protocol-accepting DUP/Donaldson deal. That opportunity will come in the general election when TUV/Reform will stand out from the crowd of protocol implementers.

“Our alignment with Reform UK is about awakening pan-unionism across the entire UK. Pan-nationalism campaigns for Irish unification. It’s time for a pan-unionist demand for reunification of the United Kingdom.”

Mr Habib said he is “bringing a message of political unionism across Northern Ireland and Great Britain”.

He said: “I’m excited about it.

“I’m saddened by the way that there is a split within political unionism in Northern Ireland.

“I was very pleased when we all stood together, the DUP, UUP and TUV but if you have political parties, so-called unionist political parties that don’t even recognise there is a border in the Irish Sea, you’ve got a problem.

“So I’m saddened by that but also very excited by the prospect now of this pan-UK political force.”

Ms Widdecombe said: “We’re trying to save the Union basically, we believe that it’s quite wrong that a part of the UK is still subject to EU law that the rest of the UK isn’t, and Northern Ireland is an integral part of the UK and should be treated as such.

“I think it (the Reform UK/TUV link-up) is excellent because we’re both fully committed to the Union.

“We would have hoped originally that the DUP would have shown an equal determination but they haven’t. The TUV has.”