It was fashionable at the turn of the millennium to decry how politicians had all become the same and attack the cosy, centre-ground consensus. When William Hague ran his 2001 election campaign on a Eurosceptic “Save the Pound” campaign, he became a figure of fun. Britain was a multicultural, youthful European country unshackled from the moral baggage of Empire. By 2012 during the Olympics, London could credibly claim to be the centre of the new globalised world with a population like no other on earth. A metropolis in a nation comfortable with itself and its diverse population. A country that could provide medicine for all through the NHS and also have an economy the envy of its European neighbours.
Then Ukip destroyed your future.
In 2006, David Cameron dismissed them as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. A decade later they contributed to the shifting of the political envelope so far that Cameron had to resign and Britain was about to commit the national act of harikiri by voting to leave the EU.
One of Ukip’s most effective tactics has been to exploit public concerns over immigration. The day Jo Cox died I was in Smith Square with a group of campaigners out to watch Ukip’s referendum press launch. We guessed Farage would do something on the false claim that the UK sent £350m to Brussels. I didn’t think they’d echo nationalist propaganda with their vile “Breaking Point” poster which took aim at beleaguered Syrian refugees fleeing conflict. We were going to take a van with the simple message “Hope Over Hate” on it to troll Farage. It’s one of my big regrets that we couldn’t have foreseen how low he would sink.
No matter how far the envelope shifts, they push further like a junkie wanting a stronger fix of the bad stuff. Britain is now a less tolerant place with a spike in race crimes. Yet, Ukip leader Paul Nuttall discussed how radical Islam is a "cancer" within many Muslim communities and Farage whips up hate with talk on US TV about a “fifth element” within migrant communities.
This will have a significant economic impact – potentially as large as the 2008 global recession – but just for the UK. Public polling on immigration is now so sceptical of the benefits that foreign workers bring to the NHS, the public sector and wider economy that the Prime Minister has surrendered to this protectionist interest and will not stand up for free movement of European workers. As a direct result, the trade deal (if any) we get from the EU will be significantly worse.
Our filmmakers, car plants, tech start-ups and insurance industry will no longer enjoy privileged access to the world’s biggest economic block. All because Ukip poisoned the debate on immigration.
Ukip’s “Six key tests to prove Brexit means Exit” would take Britain back to the dark days of economic chaos in the early 1970s. What’s terrifying is that leading Conservatives in government publicly speak up for some of Ukip’s economically illiterate positions.
Take point five: “The Money Test”. Ukip thinks the UK should pay not a penny to settle its final bill to the EU for boring things like nuclear power safety and the pensions bill of British civil servants in Brussels. What signal does this send to banks across the world who are currently funding our huge budget deficit? What faith would this give to future trade partners that the UK is even worth negotiating with?
Ukip’s confused legal test wants the UK to refuse to abide by any European law. The EU simply can’t consider such a demand and give banks or car makers based here full access to Europe’s market. Why should France let British banks sell products in France, if they refuse to comply with any laws that protect French consumers? Ukip’s demand simply cannot be met unless the UK ends up with a similar trade agreement to Russia: that is no special agreement whatsoever.
Ukip wants to expand our possession of the North Sea to give our fishermen more cod (with presumably the Royal Navy to patrol it). While the decline of the cod industry is a shame, I’m not convinced sacrificing our financial sector for it is a worthwhile choice in 2017.
Perhaps least surprising of all, giving their call for a referendum on the death penalty, is Ukip’s call to rip up our human rights guarantees (the UK would be the only country to do so except Europe’s last dictatorship, Belarus). Ukip demand that, “No undertaking shall be given in the leaving agreement that constrains the UK to being an ongoing member of the European Court of Human Rights.” This sounds remarkably like a rebuttal to a grassroots campaign which I’m involved in to ensure the EU doesn’t do a deal with the UK unless it guarantees human rights. Flattery, eh?
UKIP’s little England politics has been treated with kid gloves for too long. Ukip claim to be patriots but have a strong habit of talking our country down. After last week’s terror attack on London, former leader and now Trump rent-a-gob Nigel Farage popped up on Fox News to tell Americans he was “not sure” the idea that Britons were united in the face of terror “is true”. Their leader Paul Nuttall is soft on Vladimir Putin of Russia and Bashar al-Assad of Syria and former leaders have gone further in praise. They have contributed to the UK leaving the EU, which could in turn lead to the break-up of our country in a future Scottish referendum.
In all, Ukip has stolen a once promising future for young people. As Article 50 is triggered and Prime Minister Theresa May scrambles to get a deal based on unrealistic public expectations, they continue to sow discontent across our country.