Ukip capitalises on fears over immigration
The party will not lack funding to fight next year’s European elections
Eurosceptic multimillionaire Paul Sykes, a former Conservative Party backer, who is promising to bankroll Ukip’s European Parliament election campaign. Photograph: Johnny Green/PA
Paul Sykes is the quintessential Yorkshireman, blunt in speech, strong on opinions. Indeed, there are times when he can appear as a caricature.
An occasional figure on the British political stage, Sykes is back in the news in Britain with his pledge to fund the UK Independence Party’s European Parliament election campaign next year.
From a mining family, Sykes left school with no qualifications. By 18 he was dismantling old buses and shipping stripped-out engines to the Far East. Today, on the back of property investments, he is worth £650 million.
He has history. During William Hague’s time as Conservative leader, Sykes thought his fellow Yorkshireman was not Eurosceptic enough – a charge not often laid by others.
Eventually, Hague tired of him and Sykes was expelled. By 2004, he was funding Ukip. Its number of MEPs grew four-fold. Those facts are linked, he said.
For Sykes, there are two issues: a referendum that would, if passed, see the UK quit the European Union. Firstly, however, there is the matter of more EU immigration.
Barriers that have limited the free movement of Bulgarians and Romanians since they joined the EU – those not self-employed, at least – end on January 1st.
The imminent deadline is provoking apoplexy in some quarters in Britain, and not just from the usual Eurosceptic, anti-foreigner fraternity.
Immigration is now a mainstream issue. Indeed, it – not increased Euroscepticism among the British – explains Ukip’s rise. Recently, former Labour home secretary Jack Straw apologised to his Lancashire voters for not limiting eastern European migration after 2004.
Today, it matters little whether 5,000 Romanians or Bulgarians, 50,000, 500,00 or, frankly, five million come on January 1st, or in the days and months afterwards, since those who are opposed to inward migration will react in the same way.
Already, Sykes has taken out ads in the Yorkshire press showing David Cameron with an EU gag in his mouth, accusing him of staying quiet in the face of an invasion.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics indicate that the numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK rose by 19 per cent over the past year. Under the rules, they are allowed to work as sub-contractors. Indeed, the skills of some of their number as stonemasons have brought them favour with one Irish-owned construction firm. However, the UK’s statistics agency also found that more than nine in 10 of new jobs created in the year to September have gone to British nationals.
It was not always thus. Much of the widening public concern about immigration has centred on foreigners “taking” British jobs, or about them helping employers to cut wage rates.
Today, however, the economy is improving, even if its impact has yet to feed through to the parts of Britain most likely to heed Ukip’s opinions.