Interview with Nigel Farage, leader of the U.K. Independence Party

Meet Nigel Farage, the leader of England's new anti-immigration, anti-establishment party, the U.K. Independence Party. (Nicki DeMarco and Griff Witte/The Washington Post)

U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage sat down for an interview with The Post’s London bureau chief, Griff Witte, on May 2 in St. Ives, England. The following is an edited transcript.

Washington Post: I was in the town of Ramsey this morning, where you guys control the town council, and I ran into a man who was leafleting for the Conservatives. He was an older gentlemen, and I asked him why he was voting for the Tories. He said he doesn’t recognize this country anymore. It’s a multicultural society. He feels the Conservatives are the ones who can do something about this. Is he right that this is a problem, and is he right that the Conservatives are the ones who have the solution?

Nigel Farage: They support open borders. If you’re worried about immigration issues, which this old boy clearly is, then why would you vote Conservative? They support an open border to 485 million people.

WP: Is he right that multiculturalism is a problem in modern Britain?

NF: There are two completely different Britains. There’s London, and there’s the rest of Britain. Attitudes are very different. Nobody in this country has voted for 4 million people to come here in the last 15 years, and for probably another 3 million to come between now and 2020. There’s unrecognizable change happening in our country. The life prospects and job prospects, particularly of working-class people, have been severely dented. Without anyone being asked. That is a very real issue. Is it anti-multiculturalism per se? No. I think that these Cambridgeshire villages are perfectly happy with a curry house, and perfectly happy with the Italian family that’s moved in and the bloke’s a dentist. I don’t see that being an issue. I don’t see this as being a wish to repel anybody from outside. I see it as a desire to maintain a cohesive community that people recognize. And I think that’s a very healthy thing. Clearly there are lines of argument with that that could lead to some very difficult conclusions, so it’s about balance and moderation.

WP: Your opponents would say that’s coded language for racial language.

NF: My opponents are the people who gave up our borders. Your country has borders. You have quite strict borders, actually. Even getting a work permit in New York actually is quite a difficult thing to do. I’ve got to prove I’ve got an address. I’ve got to prove I have private health care. And when my work permit runs out, if I haven’t left, there’ll be a knock at the door, they’ll put me in handcuffs and take me to JFK Airport. That’s how you guys do it. And what we’ve done is say to 485 million people, ‘You can all come, every one of you. You’re unemployed? You’ve got a criminal record? Please come. You’ve got 19 children? Please come.’ We’ve lost any sense of perspective on this.

WP: So, let’s say you’re called by the queen to form a government tomorrow. What is UKIP’s immigration policy?

NF: To have control not just over the quantity of people that come, but the quality as well.

WP: And how do you measure that quality?

NF: It’s very easy. Do people have trades and skills? Have they got life-threatening illnesses? Have they got criminal records? It’s not hard. You do it. You’re asking me these questions, and you come from a country that’s very, very tough on this.

WP: Is it based on the country they originate from?

NF: No. I want to end the prejudice. We’re now prejudicing against New Zealand and India in favor of Romania and Bulgaria. This makes no sense at all. Actually, if it comes to racism, the current policy’s the racist one. Not the one that would say that commonwealth people should qualify for this procedure, too.

WP: There’s been a controversy over tweets in your party lately. Does your party have a problem with racism at any level?

NF: No. But there are one or two people that creep in that cause problems. I wouldn’t be surprised if in one or two cases they’d done it deliberately.

WP: As in, they were brought in from outside by one of the other parties?

NF: There are little games that go on in politics.

WP: But you don’t think there’s an endemic issue?

NF: Everyone knows there isn’t. Everyone knows there isn’t. In fact, if I look at our European candidates election list, I can scarcely believe the diversity we’ve got. We’ve got a rabbi standing. We’ve got a practicing Muslim standing. We’ve got people of all different backgrounds.

WP: What does a UKIP voter look like? I realize that you have people from all different backgrounds. But I’m sure that as you and your strategists look at who are the voters we’re going to target, how do you figure that out?

NF: You can read the books, and they’ll give you the answer. They will tell you that the UKIP voter is 60 percent male, 40 percent female. Is 65 percent older than 55 and 35 percent younger than 55. It’s not hard to work out. Some have been Labor. Some have been Tories. The most difficult thing is previous voting intention, because they’re coming from across the board.

WP: So this is not just former Tories?

NF: Far from it. They’re a minority. They were a big preponderance when we were a smaller party. Now we’ve grown. Of course the real joker in the pack are the non-voters who are voting for us. There are lots of those.

WP: And it tends to be lower-skilled, lower-educated voters.

NF: There are more of them in the population than there are retired lieutenant colonels.

WP: And immigration, how big a factor is that?

NF: Number one. And while we’re members of the European Union, we don’t have an immigration policy. We can’t have an immigration policy. It’s a charade for people to pretend we do.

WP: Is it primarily European immigration that people are concerned about?

NF: We have an open door to half a billion people. We still retain the ability to decide who comes from the rest of the world. But we’ve effectively shut down the rest of the world because 4,000 people a week are coming from the E.U.

WP: What are we going to see on election day?

NF: I don’t know. You tell me. Look, we’ve still got three weeks to go. I’ve been working at this particular project for three years. I’ve thought about little else for three years than getting this right. I still think we’ve got every chance of winning. If we get one vote more than Labor, across the United Kingdom, that is a major success. Whatever the polls do between now and then, winning is what matters.

Griff Witte is The Post’s London bureau chief. He previously served as the paper’s deputy foreign editor and as the bureau chief in Kabul, Islamabad and Jerusalem.
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