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Tuesday, 22 May, 2001, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Nigel Farage of UKIP quizzed

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UKIP is standing in several hundred seats across the country. On an anti-European Union platform, they will be targetting Labour and Liberal Democrat held marginals.

Nigel Farage, who was elected to the European Parliament for UKIP, is one of the party's leading members.

He answered your questions in a BBC News Online forum.

News Online Host

Do you have a genuine chance of taking a seat a single seat in a general election?

Nigel Farage

Well there are four or five seats in which we think we've got a real chance and those seats are in the South West, on the South coast and in the Midlands. Realistically in the rest of the country we're not going to win seats but what we are going to do is get a very substantial proportion of, of the vote in those seats and what we will do is put the European question very much higher up the agenda than it is at the moment because we think the most important question at this election should be who governs Britain.

News Online Host

So you've, stick your neck out and give us the prediction for the number of seats you might win?

Nigel Farage

Oh Lord, it's a terribly difficult thing to answer, a lot can answer in the next 16 days obviously but we've got a very strong chance in four to five seats.

News Online Host

Great, okay, and from Howard Cheadle, he says why are you standing as candidates in seats with Tory MPs, surely you agree with them about the Euro?

Nigel Farage

No, no, no, no, no, the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats are all absolutely dedicated to continued British membership of the European Union, even the Euro-sceptics in the Conservative Party want to stay part of the European Union but believe they can reform it. We think that it's unreformable and certainly having spent two years inside the belly of the beast I'm convinced that it's unreformable and we want to come out of the European Union. So they're all going in that direction and we want to go in that direction.

News Online Host

But isn't there a danger that Tories might lose their seats and they do believe nearer to you than any other party?

Nigel Farage

Well that makes, I mean, you know that presupposes that our vote comes predominantly from disaffected Conservatives. All the surveys show that not to be the case, there are more people who vote Labour who want to keep the pound forever and leave the European Union than there are Conservatives and this is not a left-wing issue, not a right-wing issue, we will draw support from across the political spectrum.

News Online Host

Okay, I have a question now from Christian de Feyo from Antwerp in Belgium, he says it's clear that the Conservative Party is moving more towards a fully Euro-sceptic position in recent years, might not your time be better spent trying to push the Tories in that direction rather than draining it away in Euro-sceptic votes?

Nigel Farage

If it hadn't been for Jimmy Goldsmith and the Referendum Party, and if it hadn't been for the UKIP and the European elections of 1999 the Conservative Party would not be sounding as sceptical as it is today and I've no doubt that one of the results of us standing in this election is they'll become even more sceptical as June the 7th approaches.

News Online Host

Okay Graham from Scotland says in what areas would you see an independent UK and the EU working together?

Nigel Farage

Trade, very simple, we will carry on with a free trade arrangement with the European Union, we will carry on to have friendly relations with our next door neighbours. What we won't have is a court in Luxembourg that can overrule Acts of Parliament. What we won't have is over-burdening bureaucracy in the European Commission and a useless Parliament which has, of course, three homes, Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg and we'll have free trade and friendship but none of the other associated costs, financial costs and loss of sovereignty - we'll be far better off out.

News Online Host

Now that uses Parliament, you're a part of it.

Nigel Farage

I know, absolutely useless.

News Online Host

How have you found it?

Nigel Farage

Well it's been interesting, I mean when I arrived there people thought, or asked whether I was a sort of reincarnation of Guy Fawkes. No we haven't behaved badly, we haven't set fire to it or anything like that. We've gone as observers, we've gone to find out what's really going on and what I can say after two years is that the pace of European integration is very much faster than anybody in this country believes.

News Online Host

Okay another question now from Richard Miller in Ireland, if the option were available would you favour joining a North Atlantic Free Trade area?

Nigel Farage

What turning that, turning, turning the North American Free Trade Area into the North Atlantic? My own view is that what we ought to be able to do is to have a free trade deal with the European Union, to have a free trade deal with NAFTA and to have the ability to have free trade deals with our Commonwealth countries. I don't think we need to be part of any one block, I think the world's changed over the last 30 or 40 years, we've had global trade liberalisation, those barriers have come down to very low levels so I want to see an independent Britain trading globally rather than having , a tie-in, a direct close tie-in either with the European market or the American market, we don't need to do that, we should be a global trader.

News Online Host

The problem is that many people in the European Union, many of the countries, won't go along with that, they won't.

Nigel Farage

Hah, really, well they sell us more than we sell them and I wouldn't have thought if Britain left that the Chief Executives of BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Renault, Citroen and Fiat would say, well if that's the case we're going to refuse to sell our motor cars in Great Britain. I mean it just isn't going to happen. They need us economically far more than we need them but the absolute proof of it was Neil Kinnock said to me in the third week of January this year, during a BBC interview, he was asked the question what would happen to trade if Britain left the European Union and Kinnock himself said there would be no trade recriminations if Britain left the European Union. If it's good enough for Neil Kinnock it's good enough for me.

News Online Host

Okay a question from Paul Detoit from Rochester in Kent, the Swiss voted only narrowly not to join the EU and the consensus is -

Nigel Farage

What?

News Online Host

That this will change in future years, other countries want to join, do you believe the UK could be independent?

Nigel Farage

Well that's a very amusing question, he's obviously playing games with stats, 78 per cent of the Swiss said they didn't even want their government to negotiate with the European Union in terms of entry, so it was a massive, overwhelming no vote there. We've had two overwhelming no votes in Norway and even in Denmark which is part of the EU, last September, we had the people of Denmark saying no to going into the Euro. And what is happening right across the European Union and also in the applicant states such as Poland, is that we see this massive division between the tiny segment of society represented by career politicians, administrators, health inspectors and the other 98 per cent of the population who are ordinary people and the ordinary peoples right across Europe are saying they do not want to lose their national identity and that they will not in the, the long-run accept governance from an unelected commission based in Brussels.

News Online Host

Okay, now how about the cost of withdrawal, Dan Humphry from Hertfordshire says, the well respected research organisation, The National Institute for Economic and Social Research, recently reported that withdrawal from the European Union would lower the real level of GDP by 2.25 per cent permanently. This is worth £20 billion a year in today's prices, how do you respond to this study which also concluded that manufacturing inward investment would fall by 33 per cent and that much of this investment would relocate to other countries within the EU?

Nigel Farage

Well that particular organisation has produced some very interesting reports, hasn't it? I remember the Express Newspaper was running with a headline six months ago that if Britain left the EU it would cost us eight million jobs, so I would take some of those statistics with a pinch of salt. No the fact is that what is destroying small and medium-sized business today is over-regulation and if we could do what the Americans did back in the 1980s, by taking companies with less than 20 employees and removing from them some of the excessive regulatory burdens we would have an immediate first year improvement of one per cent in gross, in Gross National Product which would be the equivalent to about £6 billion. Overall financially we'd be far better off out, I mean currently we're paying a membership fee to this club that over-regulates us and who sell us, have sold us over the years more than we've sold them, a membership fee of £1.3 million an hour.

News Online Host

Actually this takes us on to the next question -

Nigel Farage

Okay.

News Online Host

From Richard Knowlesworthy from Cardiff in Wales, he says your argument for withdrawal from the EU is that the UK is a net contributor, but isn't this a selfish position to take. Firstly countries like Wales and poorer regions like Merseyside and Cornwall benefit from aid packages, isn't it better that money is moved from richer areas of Europe to poorer regions and better achieved on an EU level than just within the UK?

Nigel Farage

I'm sorry there's no such thing as European money, European money is our money, our money that is paid to Brussels, seven or eight per cent of it gets lost in fraud and waste and a few per cent of it is spent on, you know, lunches -

News Online Host

Your expenses -

Nigel Farage

Lunches for the Commissioners, chauffeurs for the MEPs and all the rest of it and then we get some money back. But the money that we get back of course can only be spent in ways that are predetermined by the European Commission, it's our money coming back to us and what they've been doing with it, quite cleverly, is they've been using it ever since Maastricht, ever since the development of the committee of the regions, they're using it to try and break apart the United Kingdom and that's why we now have 12 separate Euro regions in this country and the idea is that they will all have their parliaments and so what happens is that money, you know when a by-pass is built round a town a percentage of that may be sponsored by the European Union, using our money in the first place, and of course the price we have to pay is that at both ends of the by-pass we have to fly the European Union flag so that we can all say to ourselves, aren't they wonderful people. It's our money in the first place.

News Online Host

Now a question from Henry Hall from Grantham, your party often claims that the European Union is set to become a super-state, how can this be the case when no European country wants the EU to become a super-state and any decisions on the future shape of the EU have to be made unanimously, Britain has a veto?

Nigel Farage

Well I mean you talk about veto, you know we saw the beginning of the eradication of our veto back in the mid-1980s when Mrs Thatcher signed the Single European Act. We've just seen the Nice Treaty with a further 40 areas in which our veto used to apply having been eradicated. We have a veto now in very few areas indeed and you can call it a super-state, you can call it what you want the fact is what is being created is a centralised undemocratic form of government and I have a feeling that the peoples right across Europe are going to rise up against it. You know when people wake up to the fact that by voting in their national general elections they're really having no influence over the, over the future destiny of their own lives, when they realise that the key decisions are taken by the unelected central bankers in Frankfurt and the unelected commissioners in Brussels, I think that's a recipe for trouble. We could have a United States of Europe if there was consent from the peoples in all of the member states to have it but nobody's ever been asked and that's why we're saying, as a party, ask the people, let the people decide.

News Online Host

It's not on the agenda though?

Nigel Farage Not on whose? It's on my agenda, I mean I'm saying, you know, let's have a referendum on this, give the British people the facts, tell them the truth this time because it wasn't the truth back in ˘75, tell them the truth, tell them the true intended nature of theżand look it's got a flag, it's got an anthem, it's got a core, it's got a Parliament, it has all the symbols of a state and if you listen to the arguments and debates that I do going on in the European Parliament nobody over there is in any doubt that what is happening is a new country is being created.

News Online Host

Okay, Mrs Wheatcroft from Manchester, UKIP and other anti-European organisations often claim that if we were to join the Euro we would be subject to tax harmonisation but the Maastricht Treaty states that taxation and spending levels are for member governments to decide, how can we believe anything you say when you can't even tell the truth on the simplest of things?

Nigel Farage

Well she's quite wrong on that of course because the Maastricht criteria limit the amount of money that governments can borrow and spend and we're still limited by those parameters. Only the other week, you know, we had, we had the Commission telling Ireland that they had to change their budget and warning Gordon Brown that his projected spending figures a couple of years hence would have to be altered so we're already bound by the Maastricht criteria and if we voted in a government in this country, let's say we voted in an old-fashioned Labour government in this country that decided it wanted to up taxes massively, decided it wanted to prime pump the economy, they would be told by our European "partners" that they weren't allowed to do it. So we're already bound to a large extent and she can make that point about tax harmonisation but just look at the budget, the budget last year Gordon Brown announced he was reducing VAT on church repairs from 17½ per cent to five per cent only to be told that the Competition Commission, that he wasn't allowed to do so. So tax harmonisation is happening already.

News Online Host

Okay Harry Wentworth in Torquay in Devon, what would the UKIP government's attitude be to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly given that the majority of people in certainly Scotland at least did actually vote for it?

Nigel Farage

Well I think the Welsh Assembly is, is just one of the great nonsenses, I mean a heavily, heavily rigged referendum with a very low turnout and only 25 per cent of the Welsh people voted for it, I would have a bet with anybody that if there was a referendum tomorrow on the continuance of the Welsh Assembly they would sweep it away.

News Online Host

Okay, Benjamin Mossup from London, I understand the logic behind being cautious of the European Union but don't you feel a little bit threatened by the far right element which supports your party?

Nigel Farage

No I don't, that's really two questions isn't it? I mean I take, I very much take the view that Tony Benn takes on this, Tony Benn has always said that if you take away from people their countries, if you take away from people their identities by forcing them together into this European block that actually what you will do is to create nationalism and we are seeing, across Europe, the growth in far-right parties and I think we're very lucky in this country that the only party dedicated to, to British independence, dedicated to keeping the pound forever and taking us out, amicably, from the European Union is the UKIP, a moderate, non-racist, non-sectarian party drawn from people from right across society. You look at our candidate list, we've got 450 candidates standing in this election and they represent the biggest social spectrum that any political party in this country could put forward. We have had over the course of the last few years one or two people that have climbed over the wall that have proved to be unacceptable to us but they don't exist in UKIP today.

News Online Host

Okay, that's all we've got time for, my thanks to Nigel Farage from the UK Independence Party and from me, goodbye.

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