Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party has added an Office for National Statistics civil servant to its candidate list for next month’s European elections.
James Wells told a press conference he had quit his job as ONS head of UK trade to stand as a candidate for the May 23 vote, which will take place if prime minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement does not secure parliament’s backing soon.
Wells said he would stand as an MEP candidate in Wales, where he has lived for the past 12 years. The nation currently returns four of the UK’s 73 MEPs to the European Parliament and voted to leave the European Union in 2016's referendum by a margin of 52.5% to 47.5%.
Wells joins the ranks of former Conservative Party minister Ann Widdecombe and journalist Annunziata Rees-Mogg – sister of leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg – in seeking election for Farage’s new party.
Announcing his candidacy, Wells said he had been increasingly disaffected with the direction the government and parliament had taken on Brexit since the referendum. He referred to “the lies, the deceit, the dirty tricks and the duplicity” without providing examples.
“This is a huge decision for me. I’ve worked at the ONS for six years and I’m genuinely passionate about my job improving UK trade statistics to help and support the government as we leave the EU,” he said.
“I can no-longer be content shouting angrily at the TV watching the debates in the Commons and all the political games that go along with that. And I can no longer stand still as upstanding members of the community who I respect greatly tell me that they will never, never vote again.”
Wells said he had taken part in the final three days of Farage’s 300-mile Sunderland-to-London pro-Brexit march last month, which had made him realise he needed to take more action than “shouting at the TV and arguing with colleagues and friends and family”.
He said that he had handed in his notice at the ONS on Tuesday and finished work at 4pm on Wednesday this week. Under electoral rules, civil servants – along with full time police officers and judges – are barred from standing as candidates under the terms of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975. The rules also apply to European Parliament elections.
An ONS spokesperson said civil servants who wished to stand for election were required to resign from their jobs before declaring their candidacy.
“That process was followed in this case and Mr Wells is no longer a civil servant,” they said. “Civil servants resigning their posts in these circumstances are clearly informed that they have no automatic right to reinstatement.”
The spokesperson added that a temporary replacement for Wells would be appointed and a permanent head of UK trade would be advertised for “in due course”.
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