Saturday 18 November 2017

I'd be happy with Ireland in Commonwealth - Farage

He’s broken the mould in British politics – now, in the run-up to the election, Shona Murray talks Ireland, England and exit from Europe with the UKIP leader

UKIP leader Nigel Farage drinks a pint in the Dog Inn in Kent
UKIP leader Nigel Farage drinks a pint in the Dog Inn in Kent

Shona Murray

Brussels, ugh.

"It was horrendous the way Ireland was treated by Brussels after the Lisbon referendum. Awful", says Nigel Farage from a bar stool in 'The Dog' pub, in Sandwich - a town in Kent, England. One of several pub stops on the hustings with UKIP last Sunday.

"I saw the dishonesty myself - the referendum imposed twice on the Irish. The Irish said no but that wasn't good enough; they must vote again.

"You had the whole establishment clubbing together; with no attempt at neutrality from the Irish broadcast media and an entire political class making sure that the Irish didn't have a fair and free referendum.

"I have to say, I thought it was a disgrace.

"I'm not just against the European project from a political perspective; I'm against it as a whole. I can't stand it."

If he gets his way, and there's a Br-exit from the EU, Farage has his eyes on the Irish republic, too.

"If you put to the Irish people, the issue of Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth, you might be surprised at how many people in Ireland think it's a rather good idea."

Farage's great plan for a post-EU Britain is a resurgent, prosperous Commonwealth. One with 'free trade' and a 'political union'. Rather like the EU, but with Britain at the helm.

"If I'm right, we can turn the Commonwealth into something more - extending it into a concept of free trade, and increasing prosperity to its member states".

"If Ireland wanted to be a part of that, I'd be very, very happy"

Farage is on walkabout in the constituency he's contesting in the UK general election on May 7. South Thanet is a struggling middle class area; a Tory incumbent, Laura Sandys holds the seat now, but it was Labour from '97 - 2005.

And it appears South Thanet is just as open to swinging towards UKIP, as anywhere else in the UK. The party's one-track policy of curbing immigration and securing Britain's withdrawal from the EU, is not exactly a turn-off. And so far, Farage is getting away with being 'light' on all things economic.

"I'm very open" to voting UKIP, says 38 year-old Mrs Rowley. "We're going to get our country back from Brussels," Farage assures the mother of five and prospective constituent.

"Could I get a photo with you," she interrupts his anti-immigration monologue.

"UKIP is now a viable party; the publicity has been so immense in this area, and his [Nigel's] causes have really hit the nail on the head," she explains.

"Local issues - key things like immigration, they're important."

But there's isn't any "particular" problem with immigration here, she concedes, when pressed. She refers to issues relating to border control at Dover port where "asylum-seeking Somalis" coming to Britain, are a "drain on resources".

We're part of the EU, and we do get a lot of Polish people, and yes, they work very hard. But I'd "possibly" support a withdrawal from the EU.

Economy

Door knocking and shop-talk is thirsty work. And after every few doors, a pit stop at a local pub is in order; Nigel is ferried around by whoever drew the short straw that day - the designated drivers, while the rest of the team lower back pints and smoke fags; grudgingly outdoors. They're not a fan of the smoking ban either.

We arrange to meet at The Chequers Inn. It's closed down, as are several other pubs along the route. A clear sign that all is not well with the local economy in South Thanet. What will Nigel do to improve the economy, if elected?

"UKIP's agenda is that we have to help the small man and small woman. We have to lift the burden of regulations off their back and allow them to go out and create wealth for themselves and create more jobs. There isn't a magic wand."

Not everyone is best pleased by the sight of bright yellow trousers and green British tweed - the de facto uniform for male over-50 UKIP members, it seems.

Steve Sheath, from Sandwich, accuses Farage of "exploiting racist attitudes" and whipping up an anti-immigrant frenzy that is "immoral and inappropriate in British politics".

"People like you in the 1930s were telling us that the Jews should not be given asylum here," he seethes.

"How many millions from India would you allow to come then, responds Farage. "We don't agree, but thank you for the chat." The men politely part ways.

"I propose that we become more muscular in defending our culture, and applying the law equally to everybody", clarifies Farage. An ideal partner would be the addition of Ireland to a union with Britain. "We're remarkably alike the Irish and the British - there are some on both sides that would hate ever to admit that.

"But, I would certainly personally welcome Ireland back in to the commonwealth."

Irish Independent

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