Matt Chorley, Daily Mail, March 4, 2015
Nigel Farage was today accused of ‘making it up as he goes along’ as Ukip ditched the idea of capping immigration.
The Ukip leader is setting out his party’s policy on immigration, claiming the current system is ‘unsustainable, unethical and unfair’ and calling for more high-skilled workers and people from the Commonwealth to be allowed into Britain.
But during a radio interview he ditched the idea of reducing net migration to below 50,000, which had been backed by Ukip’s immigration spokesman Steven Woolfe just last week.
A split also emerged over the party’s policy towards people with serious illnesses coming into the UK, with Mr Woolfe backing them but Mr Farage suggesting they were not welcome.
Mr Farage says his party would establish a migration control commission with a remit to reduce net migration into the UK.
In a keynote speech, he will call for future immigration to focus on highly-skilled workers and ‘our friends from the Commonwealth’ as opposed to ‘low-skilled, Eastern European migration’.
The party has attacked David Cameron for failing to meet his promise to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands. New figures last week showed it hit almost 300,000 in the year to September.
In response, Mr Woolfe said: ‘We will set a cap on the number of people permitted to work and reside in the UK by introducing a fairer.’
At last year’s party conference, Mr Woolfe announced: ‘Ukip commits to bringing UK net employment migration down to 50,000 people a year.’
But Mr Farage today jettisoned the idea, claiming that under an Australian-style system it was ‘very unlikely that we would need 50,000 people’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s programme Ukip would bring immigration levels ‘back to normality’, with numbers similar to those seen before 2000.
But he added: ‘I’m not putting caps or targets … you need to have more flexibility than that. The point is this: we currently have no control over the numbers, we are incapable of debating anything now in politics without caps and targets and I think the British public are bored with it.’
He later told BBC News that he had discussed the policy with Mr Woolfe yesterday. ‘Policies evolve, they develop, they move on. I don’t want the emphasis from today to be what our cap is; what I want it to be today is the fact that Ukip is putting forward a policy that will take immigration into Britain back to normal.
‘Our intention is to bring net immigration into Britain back to 20,000 to 50,000 a year. It’s a range, it’s a range. Well again, you see, you can’t help it you guys, you’re obsessed with targets, let’s talk about policy.’
The u-turn was seized on by the Tories as proof that Ukip’s policy was in chaos.
Chancellor George Osborne said: ‘Nigel Farage seems to be making it up as he goes along, one moment he is proposing a cap and then he is ditching it live on air–a novel approach to policy making.
‘We are the people with a sensible plan, whether it’s on the economy or immigration.’
The Conservatives are to repeat the promise to limit net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’, despite missing it so spectacularly.
‘This is absolutely our ambition,’ Mr Osborne said. ‘Of course we haven’t met it in this parliament, as everyone knows.
‘That’s partly because the British economy has been so much stronger than other European economies.
‘But the way to deal with this is the welfare reforms that David Cameron has set out so you can’t just turn up in this country and claim welfare from day one.’
Ukip’s proposals depend on Britain leaving the European Union, and include an Australian-style points-based visa system which, it says, would ensure the right numbers of highly-skilled workers were able to enter the country while imposing a five-year moratorium on visas for unskilled workers.
Rules discriminating between European Union (EU) and non-EU nationals would be abolished, and those workers who qualified under the system would be issued with a visa valid for five years.
During that time, they would not be entitled to claim UK benefits and would be expected to take out health insurance.
After five years they would be entitled to apply for permanent leave to remain, provided they had not broken the law.
Mr Farage said: ‘The British public has acknowledged that they can’t trust the other parties to be serious on immigration.
‘Despite Mr Cameron’s pledge, net migration is now up to 300,000 people per year. It is unsustainable, unfair and unethical.
‘That’s why Ukip has developed a policy focused around an Australian-style points-based system, led by a newly-formed migration control commission, tasked with bringing numbers down and focusing on highly-skilled migrants and our Commonwealth friends–as opposed to the low-skilled, Eastern European migration that the Tories and Labour have expanded.’
Mr Farage insisted ‘normal was from 1950 until the year 2000’.
‘I am not getting caught up with ridiculous arguments about caps,’ he added. ‘There is no U-turn, there is a change of emphasis.’
He went on: ‘Our intention is to bring net immigration into Britain back to 20,000-50,000 a year. That’s a range…
‘You can’t help it, you guys–you are obsessed with targets, obsessed with targets. Let’s talk about policy.’
Mr Farage said a mooted £27,000 lower limit on earnings to gain access to the UK was ‘not absolute’ and there could be exemptions for some skills, such as nurses.