Mass immigration is harming British culture but there should be no cap on the numbers who can come to the country, Ukip’s new leader has said.
Former Army officer Henry Bolton used his first leader’s speech at the party’s Torquay conference to also claim that immigration was overwhelming public services.
But speaking to reporters earlier he signalled a major shift in Ukip’s position by abandoning the party’s pledge to cap net migration.
Mr Bolton said the present rate of immigration is “unacceptable”, claimed British culture was being “swamped” by multiculturalism and “buried” by Islam, and called for an Australian-style points-based system for managing migration.
He told the conference: “Immigration is overwhelming our public services, which themselves are being slashed – 25% off the police, for example, in some cases nearly 50% off local government.
“Housing and communities are being overwhelmed, it is harming our own culture, traditions and way of life.
“We must demand that our own concerns about our own British culture are heard and that that feeds into our policy on immigration.”
But earlier, he watered down Ukip’s past promises to cap immigration.
In 2015 the party promised a temporary block on low-skilled and unskilled migration, and a limit of 50,000 high-skilled immigrants a year, while in 2017 the party committed to zero net migration.
Prime Minister Theresa May remains committed to a target of reducing net migration to the “tens of thousands”.
Mr Bolton told reporters: “Anybody who says put a figure on it is actually being entirely unrealistic and trying to paint politicians like me into a corner that gives you a nice thing to hang a comment on, but you’re not going to get it from me because actually we need to be a lot more practical and operational about it.”
On Brexit, Mr Bolton described a transition period as proposed by the Conservatives and Labour as “unacceptable” and said Britain must be “prepared” to leave the European Union immediately.
He claimed Mrs May’s major Florence speech, in which she set out plans for a two-year transition and made a first offer towards a financial settlement, showed “the UK does not want to leave the EU in anything but name”.
The PM’s promise of a security partnership with the EU showed she was prepared to “subordinate” the UK’s foreign policy, defence and aid to Brussels, Mr Bolton said.
“Does any of this suggest to you that we’re on the way out of the European Union?” he said.
“I can only conclude that the Conservative Government either has no intention of taking us out of the European Union, or that they are simply too incompetent or negligent to care.
“Surely, whichever the case, the Conservatives are unfit to govern and cannot be entrusted with Brexit.
“The Government, far from offering strong and stable leadership, has proven inept and unable to set and pursue clear strategic goals.
“We must demand the repeal of the European Communities Act and be prepared to leave now.”
He said that “17.4 million people voted to leave the European Union”, and added: “This party has a moral obligation to ensure that we do.
“The fightback starts here, starts now, starts today.”
The ex-soldier opened his speech with a clear pitch to former Ukip voters who backed the Tories in the general election, suggesting Mrs May had betrayed them on Brexit.
The PM’s promise that “Brexit means Brexit” and approach to the issue was thought to be a key factor which resulted in Ukip’s vote share tumbling to 1.8% from 12.6% in 2015.
But Mr Bolton said: “The Prime Minister called the last general election, in her own words, ‘to strengthen my hand in the Brexit negotiations’.
“She claimed that she offered ‘strong and stable’ leadership.
“The country and many of our supporters trusted her and the Conservatives won the election.
“So, 14 months after the referendum, have we regained control of our borders?
“Are we able to conclude our own trade agreements?
“We have not, no. And our Parliament and courts are still subordinate to a foreign power.
“Far from having a strong hand, we now learn that European Commission pretty much dictated the language regarding the UK’s financial settlement to the EU that the Prime Minister used in her speech in Florence last week.
“And then we have Donald Tusk, who, on Tuesday, on the very steps of Downing Street, told the Prime Minister of Great Britain that she had ‘Failed to make sufficient progress’.”
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