Redbridge Tory joins Reform UK over Government’s handling of COVID pandemic

A Redbridge Conservative councillor has left the party due to his frustration with the Government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Cllr Robin Turbefield (Bridge) says he is “not a COVID-denier or anti-vaxxer” but feels the Government “approached the situation in the wrong way” by locking the country down.

After more than a decade as a Conservative councillor, he has now joined the former Brexit Party, renamed Reform UK earlier this year.

While he says he is eager to push the party’s agenda in his remaining time as councillor, he does not plan to stand for re-election next year.

Reform UK was co-founded by Nigel Farage in 2018 with the goal of advocating for Brexit and supports policies like reducing immigration.

Explaining his dissatisfaction with the handling of COVID, Cllr Turbefield said: “We should have been looking for herd immunity, protect everyone who needs protection and everyone else carry on.

“I do not believe we should have closed the country down, I think we have used a sledgehammer to crack a nut essentially.

“The vast majority of people that have passed away have been particularly elderly or with co-morbidities. There are people with perfect health (who have died of COVID) but there can be people with perfect health who drop dead everyday because of something else.

“We have got an economy that pays for everything, if we destroy that economy, how does everything work?”

Cllr Turbefield pointed to countries such as Sweden, which decided against strict lockdown measures, although it also saw a far higher death rate per capita than other Nordic countries.

On April 8, Sweden recorded more than five times the number of COVID deaths than the next worst affected country, Denmark, despite being less than twice as populous.

Cllr Turbefield said there is “no animosity” with any of his former Conservative colleagues, particularly fellow Bridge ward councillor Paul Canal, who he has worked with for many years.

Responding to the news, Cllr Canal (Con) said it “makes as much sense as Declan Rice leaving West Ham and signing for Accrington Stanley”.

He added: “Nonetheless, I wish Robin and his family the best for the future and genuinely thank him for his service as a Redbridge Councillor for over 15 years.”

In a statement today, Redbridge’s Conservative councillors said: “We note with some sadness Cllr Turbefield’s decision to step aside again to join yet another party. We wish him well.

“Our capable councillors Cllr Paul Canal and Cllr Anita Boateng will continue to be a strong voice for Bridge as only Conservatives can be – fighting for better jobs, supporting local opportunities and campaigning for good local public services for their residents.”

Cllr Turbefield, who campaigned locally for leaving the EU during the referendum, said Reform UK’s hard Brexit policy was “a big driver” for his decision to join the party.

He also supports its goal to scrap interest on university fees, but does not support the total abolition of the House of Lords, instead hoping to see it reformed.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter