Ukip leader Nigel Farage claims critics who say the party’s Euro election posters are racist are “outraged because we’re actually telling the truth”.
Nigel Farage defended Ukip’s new campaign images, which warn of foreign workers taking British jobs, after they were described as “racist” and “divisive”.
He said the posters, bankrolled by Yorkshire tycoon and former Conservative donor Paul Sykes, could help create an “earthquake” in the political establishment if they propel Ukip to victory in the European elections on 22 May.
The latest polls show Ukip will come second behind Labour but ahead of the Conservatives. If the party attracts enough votes to win the ballot, Ukip could be on course to win its first parliamentary seats in the 2015 general election and move the question of Britain’s EU membership to the top of the political agenda.
The Ukip posters are to be displayed at hundreds of billboard sites across the country, thanks to a reported £1.5m donation from self-made multimillionaire businessman Mr Sykes, a veteran Eurosceptic.
One poster features a construction worker begging on a pavement, and warns: “British workers are hit hard by unlimited foreign labour.”
Another features a giant finger pointing at the reader and the slogan: “26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?”
Other posters claim that 75 per cent of British laws are made in Brussels and that UK taxpayers pay £55m a day to fund the “celebrity lifestyle” of eurocrats.
Read more: Ukip's anti-immigration posters
Some critics compared the immigration posters with those used in the past by the anti-immigration British National Party, which attempted to upstage a Ukip campaign launch event in Sheffield today.
Labour MP Mike Gapes wrote on his blog: “This Ukip campaign is a racist, xenophobic campaign designed to win votes by whipping up animosity against foreigners living and working and contributing to this country.”
Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, a grandson of Winston Churchill, tweeted: “At a time when our country really needs to come together, the Ukip advertising campaign is deeply divisive,offensive and ignorant.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, did not mention Ukip by name but said it was wrong to use language that suggested “dismay or distress at all these people coming to this country”.
Mr Farage said: “I did speculate yesterday that perhaps some of these images would get the chattering classes chattering. Well, they are chattering. In fact, they’re outraged.
“They’re outraged because we’re actually telling the truth. There’s nothing we’re saying here that isn’t true.”
He added: “These are the most important European elections that have ever been fought in this country. We’ve got a chance, four and a half weeks from now, of causing such a shock in the British political system that it will be nothing short of an earthquake.
“If Ukip win these elections, a referendum, an opportunity for us to get back control of our country will be one massive, massive step closer.
This, emphatically, is not a racist party. Nigel Farage
“And I actually think we are going to win these elections because I do think these messages resonate with people.
“We’re not against anybody. We’re not anti-European. We want a Europe of nation states that live together and trade together and that’s why it’s not just Ukip, there are other Eurosceptic parties doing well across the north of Europe.”
He went on: “I don’t see how anybody can look at these posters and call them racist in any way at all.
“I know one Labour MP has come out and said it, but that’s classic of the type of Labour MP who’s wanted to suppress debate on this question, brush it under the carpet and try and decry anybody who wants to discuss this as being racist.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised Britons a referendum on leaving the EU if the Conservatives are re-elected next year. Labour and the Liberal Democrats oppose an in-out referendum.
The deputy prime minister, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, wrote in the Guardian: “Of all Nigel Farage’s far-fetched claims – and there are many – the most outlandish is the idea that Ukip’s call for an exit is the insurgents’ battle-cry.
“What poppycock. For a start, Farage is every bit the professional politician he enthusiastically reviles. He and I were elected to the European parliament on the same day in 1999. I left after five years. The Ukip leader is still there.
“More important, there is nothing remotely new about his party’s ambitions. Ukip is simply the fresh face of a long-standing Eurosceptic establishment, supported by many in the Tory Party and significant parts of the press.”
He added:”The Lib Dems have started this debate – but we cannot win it alone. We want to work with others to deliver the firepower needed to challenge the Eurosceptic establishment.”
The poster campaign was paid for largely thanks to a substantial contribution to Ukip’s coffers from ex-Tory donor Paul Sykes.
Mr Sykes today told reporters he had “no idea” how much he had spent on the European election campaign but added: “I haven’t stopped spending yet. It’ll be worth every penny.”
He later estimated his personal contribution at £1.2m or £1.4m. Mr Sykes has previously said he has given £1.5m to Ukip.
He added: “What do you think the freedom of this nation is worth? What do you think self-government of this nation’s worth? I’m going to spend whatever it takes to make the British people aware that we’re no longer governed from this great nation of ours.”
Read more: FactCheck - the publishers and knights bankrolling Ukip
Mr Sykes is a former tyre-fitter who amassed a fortune through property deals and the internet provider Planet Online. He has previously donated large sums to the Conservative party and to various anti-EU campaigns.
The extent of his influence on Ukip policy and leadership remains unclear. In 2013 Mr Sykes told the Yorkshire Post: “Some reports have said I’m bankrolling Ukip. I’m not. I’m not just a financier, I am part of a small team which is driving the agenda.”
And in an interview with the BBC last year he said of the Ukip leader: “Me and Nigel work well together. He’s articulate and he’s learned a lot. But remember I binned Nigel once before in 2004.”
Today Mr Sykes told reporters “I get on all right with him” despite Mr Farage’s public school background.