Nigel Farage has moved to clarify his suggestion that he would abolish much of Britain’s anti-race-discrimination legislation, saying he was merely arguing employers should be allowed to prefer British workers over migrants for jobs.
The Ukip leader said he had been “wilfully misinterpreted” after he gave an interview to Trevor Phillips, the former Equality and Human Rights Commission chief, in which he indicated the party would like to do away with much equality legislation.
During the interview, Farage said: ‘I think the situation that we now have, where an employer is not allowed to choose between a British-born person and somebody from Poland, is a ludicrous state of affairs ... I would argue that the law does need changing, and that if an employer wishes to choose – or you can use the word ‘discriminate’ if you want to – but wishes to choose to employ a British-born person, they should be allowed to do so.”
Phillips asked: “In Ukip land there would be no law against discrimination on the grounds of nationality. Would there be a law against discrimination on the grounds of race or colour?”
Farage replied: “No. We are colour-blind. We as a party are colour-blind.” He went on to say that concern about race discrimination “would probably have been valid” 40 years ago but that is no longer the case.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, said Farage was guilty of instilling fear in people by conflating various sensitive issues, including warning that some Muslims are a “fifth column” in society and calling for the scrapping of most of Britain’s anti-discrimination laws.
Clegg accused Farage of acting in an irresponsible way by mixing fears about violent Islamist extremism with concerns about immigration from eastern Europe.
“He instils fear by confusing a lot of these things,” the deputy prime minister said on his weekly radio phone-in programme on LBC.
Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, said: “This is one of the most shocking things I have ever heard from a mainstream politician and demonstrates breath-taking ignorance.
“We have made huge progress on tackling racial inequality and discrimination in this country, partly because of Labour’s strong anti-discrimination laws, but things are still far from perfect. When my parents moved to London they frequently saw signs saying ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’. What Ukip is suggesting would take us back to those days.”
However, Farage hit back on several fronts later on Thursday, saying he had not been talking about anti-discrimination law but the ability of employers to have a presumption in favour of British workers over migrants. He pointed out that Labour former prime minister Gordon Brown had also been in favour of British jobs for British workers.
In his column for the Independent, Farage said it was in fact the mainstream establishment, including the press and the media, who were “perhaps racist themselves”.
“Because when I said ‘British’ they heard ‘white’, and set a course for the media narrative to pretend I made a distinction between people of different skin colours. This is their own, inbuilt racism. And it’s shameful,” he said.
He added: “There appears to be consensus between Labour, Lib Dems, and the Conservatives that nothing can or should be done about the burgeoning unemployment rates amongst British young people, be they black, white, Asian, or otherwise.
“If I’m not allowed to make the point that these people – our people – should not be discriminated against in favour of migrant workers from southern and eastern Europe – then we may as well be honest with young people in this country and tell them to go abroad and find jobs elsewhere. So which is it?”
Farage particularly attacked Khan for “using arguments that unwittingly reference a segregationist and sectarian mindset”.
“He categorises people, as he did in his BBC interview yesterday, by their race. I don’t, and nor does Ukip. We’re colour-blind as a party,” he added. “But evidently Labour still sees things in black or white or brown. They’re interested in putting people in little, convenient boxes so that they can label you, and target you as their spin doctors advise, as a ‘special-interest group’.”
He told the Telegraph: “What I am saying is very simple: I’m saying that I think British companies should be allowed the presumption of favouring British applicants for jobs over those from southern and eastern Europe.”
Farage also replied to the criticisms by directly tweeting the prime minister and the Labour leader in defence of his remarks.
In his tweet to Cameron, Farage said:
In his tweet to Miliband, the Ukip leader said:
Ukip took a bullish approach to the criticisms. In addition to Farage’s tweets the party highlighted a Facebook advertisement for a job by the Dutch offshore energy company advertising for riggers and forklift from the Baltic states to work on a project in the UK.
“Baltic nationality is required,” the advert by Oceanwide Vlissingen says. This would be illegal under the EU laws that Farage is complaining about which say that all EU citizens have to be treated equally.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010