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March 1, 2014 12:06 am
Nigel Farage has escalated the political row over immigration by warning that many areas of Britain are being “taken over” by incomers, making them “unrecognisable”.
The leader of the UK Independence party said untrammelled immigration from the EU had done “great damage to the cohesion of our society”. Speaking on Friday at Ukip’s spring conference in Torquay, Mr Farage said he felt “uncomfortable” sitting on a train full of foreigners.
While insisting that he was “not anti-immigration”, Mr Farage nevertheless said parts of Britain were becoming a “foreign land”.
“I got the train the other night, it was rush hour, from Charing Cross. It was a stopper going out and we stopped at London Bridge, New Cross, Hither Green,” he said. “It was not til we got past Grove Park that I could hear English being audibly spoken in the carriage. Does that make me feel slightly awkward? Yes it does.”
His comments on immigration came a day after data showed a jump in net migration to the UK by more than a third to 212,000 in the year to September.
Mr Farage said many schools now had a predominance of children for whom English was not their main language. Britain had an enviable record for race relations and tolerance compared to the rest of Europe, he said. “Integration is very important but immigration on the scale we have seen under New Labour makes that very much harder.”
Mr Farage earlier made an explicit pitch for former Labour voters, telling the conference that his party now poses the biggest threat to the political establishment in modern history. “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for,” the Ukip leader said. “This is the big one.”
The anti-Brussels party still has no seats in Westminster but is expected to pick up more than a quarter of the British votes in May’s European parliamentary elections.
Asked if he would quit if Ukip had no MPs in Westminster after the next general election in 2015, Mr Farage said: “Good God, yes: I’d be out of the door faster than Jack Robinson.”
The Ukip leader was speaking to the world’s media where he was visibly rattled by some questions, including why Neil Hamilton, the disgraced former Conservative MP, was organising his European election campaign.
Mr Farage said only a third of people backing Ukip were former Tory voters, with the rest of the support coming from across the political spectrum. His attempt at claiming political equidistance between the two parties belies the traditional view of Ukip as a haven for rightwing Tories unhappy with prime minister David Cameron’s moderate path.
Ukip hopes to pick up votes in Labour metropolitan strongholds in the north, as well as the Tory shires, in May’s local and European elections. It is putting forward a record 2,500 candidates to stand in the local elections.
The Ukip gathering in Torquay has attracted unprecedented media attention, with journalists from Chinese state media, five Swiss outlets and 15 attendants from the BBC.
Mr Farage dismissed the idea that Mr Cameron could renegotiate Britain’s place in the EU as a precursor to a referendum on membership.
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, had made clear that renegotiation was merely an attempt by Mr Cameron to “kick the issue into the long grass beyond the next election”, he said.
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