The fun started when ITV's Meridian asked Mark Reckless what would
happen to EU migrants already living and working in Britain if the UK
chose to leave the EU in a future referendum.
His answers made it to the front page of the Telegraph
and most of the other legacy media, after his comments were interpreted
as an intention to deport EU migrants once we had left the EU.
Complete Bastard rightly posits
that this is what happens when a political party goes public without
having worked out its policies in advance. Then, without an established
"line to take" and message discipline, it is easy for a motor-mouth
candidate like Reckless to go off the rails – as he did with Libya
, making unforced errors which then dominate the headlines.
And this really is UKIP's problem which, compounded by the profound
ignorance displayed by spokespeople and candidates alike, means that
they are constantly suffering from foot-in-mouth disease.
From the outset, the very idea of repatriating migrants who had
exercised their rights of freedom of movement or establishment, under
the EU treaties, is a clear breach of the international law doctrine of
This is dealt with admirably in a Parliamentary briefing note
and is so well established - having been formally evaluated by the International Law Commission
in 1959 – that it has now taken on the status of customary law.
No one who had made any serious attempt to inform themselves of the
state of art could possibly have made such fools of themselves. It is
the rank amateurism of the man that rankles– a man at the cutting edge
of the debate who is so ill-informed that he can offer in the name of
his party a clear breach of international law as a serious policy
Only later, via the Guardian
, amongst others, do we get the official line from a "Ukip spokesman", disowning their own candidate, having to admit
on the eve of the Rochester by-election that the 2.8million EU
nationals living and working in Britain would be given the right to stay
in the UK after an EU exit.
"Ukip's position on migration is entirely clear", says the spokesman.
"We need to sort out our borders, and we cannot do so whilst we remain
in the European Union. Those who are in this country lawfully, such as
those from EU nations, would have the right to remain".
However, even now, Reckless doesn't seem to have a grip on the issue, apparently saying
that people already in Britain "would be issued with work permits and
nobody would be deported". Thereby, he seems unaware that even issuing
"permits" would be a breach of law, making an absolute "right"
conditional on an administrative procedure.
That brought Farage into play, telling the BBC
"When we invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which sets us off on a
two-year negotiation to leave the EU, part of that renegotiations is
what happens to retired people from Britain living on the Costa del Sol
and what happens to people from Warsaw living in London".
"Let me make this clear", he added, "during our divorce negotiations,
even if the EU was to behave badly and say [British] people living in
Spain were to be threatened with not being there, we would maintain the
line that we believe in the rule of law, we believe in British justice
and we believe that anyone who has come to Britain legally has the right
Nevertheless, this does not even begin to address the fatuity of the
broader Ukip response. The ritualistic offering that we cannot "sort out
our borders" whilst we remain in the EU is getting to sound a little
tired, although none of the media seem to asking whether leaving the EU,
would be enough to solve the problem.
This is the distinction between necessary
with Ukip failing to appreciate the difference.
On the other hand, implementing controls already permitted by EU law,
addressing ECHR issues, dealing with drivers of migration, in terms of
reducing "push" and "pull" factors, and then improving the lamentably
poor administration of migration control, would doubtless yield greater
dividends than the incoherence of a party which, to this day, can't even
get its act together on an EU exit plan.
The point, of course, is that dealing with immigration in a post-EU
Britain demands a considered policy response. So far, all UKIP have been
able to do is play around with the idea of an Australian points-based
This, as an intelligent policy response, does not qualify. Britain is so
different is so many ways from Australia that only a leap of
imagination into the abyss could suggest it is of any utility.
This country with its larger, more diverse economy, on the edge of a
continental land mass, demands an entirely different response to a huge,
under-populated land mass. Not least, this country has to deal with
nearly 33 million visitors, against Australia's seven million
, the greater number making the tracking of illegal immigrants that much harder.
All that UKIP has managed to achieve from this imbroglio, therefore, is
to tell the voters that there is nothing it can do about the migrants
already in place, with nothing to suggest that they know how to deal
with migrants yet to come.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the controversy lasted long enough for the
BBC evening news remarking on the 6pm news that the policy gap is
showing once more. But then, as Complete Bastard
points out, this is UKIP
. The only way there isn't going to be a policy gap is to rebuild the party from scratch.