Ukip has been criticised by David Cameron and others for claiming the Brussels terror attacks show the dangers of lax immigration controls and a need to leave the EU.
Mike Hookem, the party’s defence spokesman, released a statement within two hours of the attacks saying the “horrific act of terrorism shows that Schengen free movement and lax border controls are a threat to our security”.
He drew the link between terrorism and immigration despite there being no information in the public domain about the identity of the attackers, their origins or motives.
“The head of Europol said in February that 5,000 jihadists are at large in the EU having slipped in from Syria,” Hookem said. “There are 94 returned jihadists currently living in Molenbeek, Brussels. This fact alone should alert people to the fact that open borders are putting the lives of European citizens at risk.”
The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, added: “I’m very upset by events in Brussels today and even more depressed for the future.”
He also retweeted Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson, who made a similar point to Hookem with a tweet saying: “Brussels, de facto capital of the EU, is also the jihadist capital of Europe. And the Remainers dare to say we’re safer in the EU! #Brexit.”
David Cameron was among those to criticise Ukip’s remarks. He said it was “not appropriate” to be drawing a link between the terror attacks and immigration on such a day.
Hookem, an MEP, responded on Twitter to criticism that the press release was distasteful, saying: “What is shameless is putting lives at risk for the sake of political union ... I am in Brussels; how many of those people attacking me are sitting safely behind computers?”
Ukip made a similar intervention after the Paris terror attacks, suggesting that immigration had contributed to the inevitability of atrocities.
At the time, Farage said: “The thing that makes me angry about what happened in Paris is frankly the fact that it was so utterly and entirely predictable. I think we’ve reached a point where we have to admit to ourselves, in Britain and France and much of the rest of Europe, that mass immigration and multicultural division has for now been a failure.”
He went even further than that by saying some British Muslims are “conflicted in their loyalties” between the UK way of life and what some elements within their faith are telling them.
Although Ukip has clearly linked terror attacks to the arguments for leaving the EU, the other Brexit wing, Vote Leave, is more keen to stress potential economic benefits of quitting the EU and not let the campaign become too negatively focused on immigration.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 22nd March 2016 13.27 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010