‘Sorry I’m not Boris’ – Ukip’s only MP seeks Brexit fans in Kettering

Douglas Carswell treads line between economic arguments and immigration issue

United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

 

About a dozen supporters were waiting in the drizzle near Kettering’s metal clock tower when Vote Leave’s bright red battle bus rolled up with Ukip’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, aboard.

“Sorry I’m not Boris,” Carswell called out cheerfully as he stepped off, posing for a few pictures by the bus before setting off on a walkabout.

Kettering town centre on a rainy day is a dispiriting sight, a pedestrianised zone with too many bargain shops, card shops and boarded-up buildings. About an hour north of London, the town is firmly in the commuter belt, its days as a boot and shoe manufacturing centre long gone.

Cheerful posse

A defector from the Conservatives, Carswell is very publicly estranged from Ukip leader Nigel Farage and he has made no secret of his discomfort with the party’s focus on immigration. As polls show the Remain side winning the economic argument in the referendum campaign, however, immigration has edged out most other issues as an argument in favour of leaving the EU.

“Immigration is an important part of the debate but it’s not the only issue. We need to take back control. Taking back control of our borders is part of it but it’s also important that we take back control of the £350 million a week [a disputed figure] we hand over to Brussels. It’s not the only issue but it’s undoubtedly an important issue,” Carswell said.

For David Palmer, a businessman and a former Conservative supporter who has not voted for 30 years, the main issue in the referendum is what he sees as the anti-democratic nature of the EU. And a two-month stay in hospital last year has persuaded him that the National Health Service and other public services are unable to cope with current levels of immigration from other EU countries.

“I can’t blame people for wanting to come and live in the UK, it’s a great place to live. You’ve got totally free health care, you’ve got fantastic social benefits . . . everything you could possibly want,” he said.

“But you cannot sustain migration of 300,000 people a year into the country, it’s a city the size of Newcastle every single year. In 10 years, we’re going to be drowned, we’ll be dead, we’ll be bankrupt.”

Palmer believes that the close historical links between Britain and Ireland will ensure that Irish people living in Britain will continue to enjoy a special status. The Irish border would not necessarily have to be hardened to stop EU migrants entering the UK, but passport checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK could return, he said.

Halfway through the walkabout I met the local Ukip chairman, a charming, elegant man who spoke in more than slightly accented English and whose name is Jehad Aburamadan. Born in Palestine, he moved to Britain when he was 17. He said the members of Kettering Ukip branch were more cosmopolitan than you might think.

Risk aversion

Another Ukip member, Paul Stott, an academic specialising in terrorism studies, told me his wife is from Sierra Leone. Although polls show immigration as the biggest issue for Leave voters, Stott said he finds more voters expressing concern about democracy and sovereignty. A ComRes poll for the Daily Mail yesterday showed the Remain side increasing its advantage on the issue of the economy and Stott acknowledged that the public’s risk aversion is a challenge for the Leave campaign.

“People seem to want a guarantee almost, that we will be better off. And there aren’t any guarantees. My position is that if something is a good product it will sell. Britain is the fifth biggest economy in the world. That isn’t going to change overnight,” he said.

Stott is confident that Kettering, along with the rest of Northamptonshire, will vote to leave the EU on June 23rd, but he is not ready to predict the overall outcome. “I think it’s going to be really close. Ask me a week before it and we’ll see,” he said.

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