Sunderland Conservatives councillor defects to Reform UK, claiming Tories 'out of touch'

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A Wearside councillor has defected to Reform UK, after claiming the national and local Conservatives are “out of touch with the people’s priorities”.

Cllr Paul Donaghy was elected in May 2021 to the Washington South ward for the Conservatives and has been the party’s only elected member in Washington since.

In a Facebook post earlier this week, the Royal Navy veteran announced he had resigned from the Conservative Party and joined Reform UK.

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The party was founded with support from Nigel Farage in 2018 as the Brexit Party and was later rebranded to Reform UK.

Cllr Paul Donaghy.Cllr Paul Donaghy.
Cllr Paul Donaghy.

Cllr Donaghy said his resignation had “not been an easy decision” and that he would “continue to work alongside all parties for the benefit of residents”.

In the social media statement however, criticism was aimed at the Sunderland Conservatives for their level of support for Washington candidates and members, as well as Sunderland’s MPs for their stance on Brexit.

Cllr Donaghy added the Conservative Party “both nationally and locally are out of touch with the people’s priorities and they no longer represent me.”

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Following the announcement, several senior Labour figures on Sunderland City Council have called for Cllr Donaghy to step down.

This included Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland Labour Group and Washington South representative.

Cllr Miller said: “If Cllr Donaghy truly believes the party he willingly chose to represent is so out of touch with the people of Washington, then he should let the people of Washington have a say over which party they would like to represent them.

“To say he would like to stand up for Washington, while forcing local residents to be represented by a party which they have not democratically voted for, goes against everything that our democratic society stands for”.

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Cllr Phil Tye, chairman of Sunderland Labour Group, also called for Cllr Donaghy to resign from his post, stating that he “no longer has the mandate of the people he was elected by”.

A spokesperson for the Sunderland Conservatives said Cllr Donaghy was ‘subject to a live investigation’ over multiple breaches of the party’s our code of conduct, claiming his decision to resign was only taken following notification of disciplinary action’.

A party source added the investigation was about social media posts linked to two official social media accounts on January 15, 2023, and that as a result, his position as a Conservative councillor was “no longer tenable”.

However Cllr Donaghy, responding, said he had been in conversation with Reform UK “several months” before his resignation and had multiple meetings about joining before the local elections.

He said his decision to eventually join Reform UK was taken at a final meeting on January 14, 2023, which included informing the local Conservatives of his intentions on January 16, 2023.

Cllr Donaghy also denied being informed of “any formal disciplinary action”, adding he had spoken to a senior party figure and was told an upcoming meeting with Conservative officials was “not disciplinary”.

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Cllr Donaghy said: “As far as my social media activity is concerned, I have a councillor profile which I use to interact with residents like many councillors do.

“Residents have appreciated my honesty and willingness to say things the way they are, it is something they expect from me and I will continue to speak out on issues that matter to the residents of Washington South”.

The councillor added he has had a positive response from residents since announcing his move to Reform UK, and that residents had told him they originally voted for him “as a person and not the Conservative Party”.

Cllr Donaghy said: “I will not be standing down, I was elected to serve the people of Washington South and that representation will continue with Reform UK.”

A statement from Reform UK Sunderland said: “Reform UK welcomes Cllr Donaghy.

“We will support him in his quest to represent the residents of his area without the constraints of his previous parties’ whip system.”