Heather Stewart and Rowena Mason, The Guardian, June 16, 2016
An anti-migrant poster unveiled by Nigel Farage has been reported to the police with a complaint that it incites racial hatred and breaches UK race laws. On Thursday night Dave Prentis, of the Unison union, said he had written to the Metropolitan police about the poster, which shows a queue of mostly non-white migrants and refugees with the slogan “Breaking point: the EU has failed us all.”
Prentis described the Ukip poster as a “blatant attempt to incite racial hatred”. He said: “This is scaremongering in its most extreme and vile form. Leave campaigners have descended into the gutter with their latest attempt to frighten working people into voting to leave the EU.
“To pretend that migration to the UK is only about people who are not white is to peddle the racism that has no place in a modern, caring society. That’s why Unison has complained about this blatant attempt to incite racial hatred and breach UK race laws.”
Earlier, controversy over the poster had prompted Boris Johnson to distance the official leave campaign from Ukip. A string of politicians from Nicola Sturgeon to Yvette Cooper also condemned the poster.
Within hours, Twitter users had pointed out the image’s inadvertent similarity to Nazi propaganda footage of migrants shown in a BBC documentary from 2005.
Johnson, who leads the official Vote Leave campaign, said the poster was “not our campaign” and “not my politics”. Drawing a distinction between his own view and those of Farage, he suggested that leaving the EU would be a way of “spiking the guns” of anti-immigrant feeling. “If you take back control, you do a great deal to neutralise anti-immigrant feeling generally,” he said, after reporters showed him a picture of the poster. “I am passionately pro-immigration and pro-immigrants.”
Farage has repeatedly praised Johnson in recent weeks, going so far as to suggest that he would take a job in a government led by Johnson if he took over after a vote to leave. The official campaign, however, has been less than happy to be associated with Ukip and Leave.EU, which have repeatedly been accused of stoking anti-immigrant feeling and using racist tropes. Vote Leave is campaigning separately from Ukip, but it does include the party’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, who shared a platform with Johnson last week.
Farage unveiled the poster in Westminster with the subheading: “We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders.” The photograph used was of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in 2015, with the only prominent white person in the photograph obscured by a box of text.
Challenged about its message, Farage said: “This is a photograph–an accurate, undoctored photograph–taken on 15 October last year following Angela Merkel’s call in the summer and, frankly, if you believe, as I have always believed, that we should open our hearts to genuine refugees, that’s one thing.
“But, frankly, as you can see from this picture, most of the people coming are young males and, yes, they may be coming from countries that are not in a very happy state, they may be coming from places that are poorer than us, but the EU has made a fundamental error that risks the security of everybody.”
When it was suggested to him that the people were refugees, he said: “You don’t know that. They are coming from all over the world. If you get back to the Geneva convention definition, you will find very few people that came into Europe last year would actually qualify as genuine refugees.
“We have just had–in the last two weeks, the Dusseldorf bomb plot has been uncovered–a very, very worrying plan for mass attacks along the style of Paris or Brussels. All of those people came into Germany last year posing as refugees. When Isis say they will use the migrant crisis to flood the continent with their jihadi terrorists, they probably mean it.”
A Ukip spokesman said the comparison with Nazi propaganda was invidious and “those making them should remember Godwin’s law”, an internet adage that heated discussions tend eventually towards someone bringing up the Nazis, and that those who do have lost the argument.
Cooper, the Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford, who has campaigned on behalf of refugees, said: “Just when you thought leave campaigners couldn’t stoop any lower, they are now exploiting the misery of the Syrian refugee crisis in the most dishonest and immoral way.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “Using the innocent victims of a human tragedy for political propaganda is utterly disgusting. Farage is engaging in the politics of the gutter.” Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, said the poster was disgusting.
Neil Carmichael, the Conservative MP for Stroud, said: “It’s disappointing to see Ukip jumping on the refugee crisis to further their own political aims. Britain can only deal with the issue of immigration by working together with European countries that face the same challenges.”
A spokesperson for Getty Images confirmed that the picture had been licensed from them and was taken in Slovenia in 2015 by its staff photographer Jeff Mitchell. “It is always uncomfortable when an objective news photograph is used to deliver any political message or subjective agenda. However, the image in question has been licensed legitimately,” they said.
“Editorial integrity is of the utmost importance to Getty Images, and our photographers are passionate about documenting the global news agenda and covering issues from an objective and impartial standpoint. Our images are syndicated to almost 1 million customers around the world–whether that be to media, business and brands, or in this case, political parties.”
Farage has made a series of interventions in the referendum campaign, including leading a flotilla of fishing boats up the Thames to Westminster on Wednesday to promote Brexit. Remain campaigners, however, have repeatedly criticised Ukip for the anti-migrant tone of some of its material, particularly in relation to the possibility of Turkey joining the EU.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, told MPs on the home affairs select committee this month that he utterly condemned Farage’s comment that sexual assaults by migrants were the “nuclear bomb” of the EU referendum. He said Farage was guilty of “inexcusable pandering to people’s worries and prejudices, that is, giving legitimisation to racism”. The Ukip leader was “accentuating [people’s] fear for political gain, and that is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.
Asked about the archbishop’s criticism, Farage dismissed his comments about migrants as a minor issue in the wider context of the referendum.
Leave.EU, which is funded by Ukip’s biggest donor, Arron Banks, has been repeatedly criticised for the tone of its campaign material regarding immigrants, which includes a video that remain campaigners said demonised Turkish people.