The party’s leader said on Friday morning that public concern about immigration had increased chances of a Brexit. “I used to think we had 33% chance of winning but now I think it is 50%,” he said.
Ukip’s annual conference at Doncaster racecourse is focusing heavily on the EU referendum, with Farage throwing his weight behind an umbrella out campaign called Leave.EU run by the Ukip donor Arron Banks.
“Today what you will see on the stage are all the groups in Britain committed to leaving the European Union for the first time ever coming together under one banner,” he said. “We are going to work together with them. They, I think, will be the umbrella group that will lead the campaign to leave the EU and we will play a major role with them.”
The campaign has been rebranded from its previous name, The Know, and will merge with other Eurosceptic campaigns including the Bruges Group, Global Britain and Get Britain Out.
Banks has dozens of people working in a call centre, which has signed up more than 120,000 supporters. He has also hired a top US political advisory firm, Goddard Gunster, after former Tory strategist Lynton Crosby reportedly turned down a £2m offer to join the campaign.
It will be seen as an attempt to challenge the other main pro-exit group, For Britain, which is dominated by Eurosceptic Tory MPs, Tory donors and a handful of Labour Eurosceptics, as well as Ukip MP Douglas Carswell. Many in this group are known to harbour concerns that Farage could be too divisive to win wider support for the out campaign but publicly it says it wishes Banks well.
Speaking before the conference, Farage said For Britain had not even committed to campaigning for the UK to leave the EU but it was welcome to join Leave.EU once it had made up its mind. He also rejected the idea that he should keep a low profile during the campaign.
“That’s the sort of story that gets put out by soft Eurosceptic posh Tories who think they should lead the referendum campaign,” he said. “The fact that most people watching this programme have never even heard of their names suggests they are not the right people.”
The conference began with two films about migrants in Calais, with Ukip’s defence spokesman, Mike Hookem, arguing that 90% of those trying to get to the UK are not refugees but economic migrants. He associated the migrants with criminality and branded the situation in northern France “totally out of control”.
Hookem claimed that in the course of his visits to refugee camps he was threatened with a gun, was teargassed in a riot, came face to face with people traffickers, was surrounded by gangs wielding crowbars trying to get into a truck, and ended up climbing the fence around the Eurotunnel.
Farage is due to speak to the conference at lunchtime, telling activists that the EU referendum should be the party’s overriding priority.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 25th September 2015 11.06 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010