Sat, Feb 02, 2013 - Page 9 News List

British anti-EU party leader sees exit from bloc ‘in few years’

By Andrew Osborn and Guy Faulconbridge  /  Reuters, LONDON

Even the location of his London office — Europe House, a building that also houses the British headquarters of the European Commission — is paradoxical, as is the fact that he uses EU funds to campaign against the bloc.

Some prominent business leaders have warned that the prospect of a referendum on the country’s EU membership will create years of uncertainty over trading rules that will scare off foreign investors or, as Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “Hang a ‘closed for business’ sign over the island nation.”

Leaving the EU itself, Britain’s biggest trading partner, would be folly, they have said, and force Britain to renegotiate a free trade agreement from a position of weakness.

However, Farage, who argues that trade with the EU has been routinely “overstated,” dismissed such fears, saying a British EU exit “wouldn’t make much difference” to trade.

“Do you honestly think that [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel is going to pick up the phone to the chief executive of Mercedes and say: ‘We’re very sorry, but as a result of putting tariffs on British goods they’ve just slapped tariffs on you selling your cars in Britain?’” he asked with a laugh. “They’d go berserk.”

The idea that London would lose its status as Europe’s financial center and forfeit the right to trade the single currency if Britain left was also fantasy, he argued.

“Governments can’t control markets,” he said. “If they really wanted to prohibit euro trading outside the EU they could do that ... if they want it to become about as rich as Congo in a decade. But they’re not going to do that.”

IMMIGRATION

Farage said the biggest reason UKIP was attracting more supporters was because it advocated ending “open door” immigration and curbing the right of other EU nationals to work, settle and claim social security payments in Britain.

“Immigration is a very, very key reason for people voting for us,” he said, arguing that local communities had been rendered “unrecognizable” by migrant workers in the last decade.

“The levels of division and enmity that have been created within those communities by government policy a propos open borders with the EU is something that people are really, really angry about,” he said.

His immediate campaign goal is to lobby against Romanians and Bulgarians getting full rights to work in Britain next year, something they will obtain because of EU freedom of movement rules, seven years after their countries joined the bloc.

Farage strongly rejects any suggestion he is a racist and said he favored an Australian-style selective immigration policy that chose people because of their skills.

However, allegations his party is racist have dogged him.

A local authority in the north of England took three foster children away from a couple in November last year, arguing that their support for UKIP was racist, prompting Cameron’s office to issue comments suggesting it agreed, at least in part.

Earlier this month, Cameron hinted he did not think Farage should be allowed to take part in TV debates ahead of the next election in 2015, telling a magazine that only parties “that are going to form the government” should be included.

Liberal newspapers in Britain are also skeptical. The Independent published an article in December last year calling Farage “a dangerous man,” his views “political poison” and his party’s free-market economic policies “a hard-right wet dream.”

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