Paul Nuttall: Ukip to play 'central role' in Brexit referendum

Written by Brian Johnson on 9 February 2016 in Interviews
Interviews

Paul Nuttall warns British voters that they should be wary of the theatrics and drama of David Cameron's sham EU renegotiations.

Paul Nuttall against a Union Jack backdrop

It's probably no surprise to most of our readers that Paul Nuttall doesn't believe that British Prime Minister David Cameron can secure a reform deal for the UK that would make remaining in the EU worthwhile.

The UK Independence Party (Ukip) deputy leader says that Cameron purposely didn't ask for enough in the first place and that the reforms that he did ask for were primarily cosmetic.

"He will not get a good enough deal simply because he hasn't asked for enough. There's no mention of reducing our contributions to the EU budget, there's no mention at all of regaining our fisheries, there are some cosmetic changes to freedom of movement with talk about capping in-work benefits for EU migrants for four years.


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But it'll be nothing more than tinkering round the edges of our relationship with the EU," says Nuttall, adding, "David Cameron will get what he asked for, but what he's asking for literally amounts to nothing."

British voters, he warns, should take care that they aren't deceived by "Cameron's ongoing charade" with European Council President Donald Tusk. "The theatrics and drama of David Cameron's sham renegotiation continues and he is playing us for fools."

Despite Cameron's play to secure a quick settlement deal on Britain's relationship with the EU at the upcoming February summit in Brussels, the Ukip MEP still isn't convinced that the Prime Minister will call the British in/out referendum for this June as widely rumoured.

"I personally don't think that there will be a June referendum. I think the timescale is too short and equally, I think it will be insane for the Prime Minister to call a referendum on our membership of the EU when we will be in the middle of the biggest migration crisis that Europe has ever faced. I am a betting man and I will put my money on March 2017."

On Europe's migrant crisis, Nuttall reiterates the view that caused a few heads to turn last year, when he insisted that MEPs stopped calling the massive influx of people into Europe a 'refugee crisis', but instead a 'migrant crisis'.

"I wouldn't call it a refugee crisis because we know that the majority of people who are coming are not from Syria. So it's a migration crisis; it's as simple as that."

He lays a large part of the blame for the current migration/refugee crisis on the German and Swedish governments. "I think that what Angela Merkel did and what the Swedish government did by saying that if you're Syrian you can come and you will be able to claim asylum has led to the dire consequences that we have witnessed across the continent."

Arguably, Nuttall may have a valid point on the origin of many of those currently seeking refuge in the EU, but it's currently the issue of European migrants, people from within the EU's borders looking to live and work in the UK, that' are causing a political storm.

The right of EU migrants to access the British benefits system may yet prove a stumbling block to David Cameron's potential settlement deal.

For Nuttall the issue of immigration is never far away, and rarely uncontroversial. He was booed and jeered on a popular British politics show a few months ago after saying the crisis in the UK's National Health System was down to allowing too many immigrants into the country.

He along with Ukip in general has been accused of whipping up racism against migrants. Comments about banning burqas haven't helped either.

"Crying racism is the last refuge of the harlot," he says, adding, "When someone feels threatened or when they feel you are winning an argument, the easiest way of shutting down that argument is to shout 'racist' at someone. No one is talking in Ukip about race. We're talking about numbers. This is about space not race."

Part of the problem, he argues, is that the UK currently has an oversupply of labour and stagnating wages. "And that is a real issue within working class communities, the kind of community in Liverpool where I'm from."

Nuttall wants Britain to return to what he calls a "sensible immigration policy," capped at around 30-50 thousand people per year.

"We should have the right to say who we need and who we don't need to come and settle in Britain. And while we are members of the EU we cannot do that. That's why we are advocating a sensible policy like Australia, where it's a points-based system. If you've got the skills that our country needs then please come and work."

"Nobody in Ukip is saying that immigration is bad, what I'm saying is that mass and uncontrolled immigration is bad for any society. What we want to see is controlled immigration, which is good."

But isn't immigration a two way-street? Haven't EU free movement rules allowed an estimated 2.2 million Brits to live and work in other EU countries? Hasn't the UK benefitted hugely from the EU's free movement laws? Not so, says Nuttall, who argues that Britain's people exports to the rest of the EU are of better quality than what the UK gets back in return.

"If you look at the British people who are living on the continent of Europe, they are generally made up of two types of people, pensioners living in and around the Mediterranean coast and people who tend to be at the higher end of their field, working in well paid jobs."

"That is not generally the case with people coming to the UK from the EU. They tend to be young and chasing low-skilled jobs. We're talking about people who should be teachers, accountants or lawyers, but instead they are working in bars and coffee shops in London."

"It's bad for us because we have nearly a million of our own young people unemployed, but it's equally bad for places like Bulgaria, Romania and Poland because they've got a brain drain. Their youngest, brightest and best are leaving. The Baltic is now depopulating faster than anywhere else on the planet. What does that tell you?"

Like his boss, Nigel Farage, Nuttall seems impervious to criticism and oblivious to ridicule. He is genuinely likeable in the sense that he could be good fun in the pub. His and Farage's relentless pursuit of an EU exit will culminate in an in-out referendum, either this year or next.

Despite being ostracised and ridiculed by the political elite, Ukip returned the highest number of MEPs from across Britain's political parties at the 2014 European elections. They also have an MP in the British Parliament, Douglas Carswell.

"Let's not forget", says a beaming Nuttall, "that there wouldn't be a referendum if it wasn't for Ukip. Our rise in 2013-14 spooked the Prime Minister into giving a commitment that he never thought he would have to keep because no one thought that he would win an outright majority in the British general election in 2015. Now he's stuck having to offer a referendum that he doesn't want to give."

"So of course Ukip will play a central role in this referendum and we will be sharing platforms with like-minded people from all political persuasions whether that's Labour, the Conservative party, even the Greens as there is a Eurosceptic wing of the Green party. I think we'll struggle to find any Lib Dems, but we will work with anyone."

Ukip and Euroscepticism go hand-in-hand. Everyone seems to know exactly what the party doesn't want, but it's sometimes a bit unclear what they do want, if and when the UK cuts its ties with Brussels.

"We want a free trade deal with the EU, and we want to reconnect with our partners in the Commonwealth who we turned our backs on in the 1970s," he says. Currently there's a spirited debate taking place within the party on exactly what the Ukip line should be on any post Brexit negotiations.

"Do we re-join EFTA, the European Free Trade Association? Personally I am a proponent of EFTA as it would allow us to slip into all of their free trade deals that they have all over the world. I think EFTA offers fantastic opportunities not just economically but also in ensuring that we remain an active part, with a say, within the European continent."

"EFTA was a British creation so I'm a big fan of the model, but not the Norwegian model. I think Britain can have its own bespoke deal with the EU as a member of EFTA."

"No one is saying that Britain wants to leave Europe. Europe is a continent of which we are a part and I love Europe, I do, I just dislike the EU."

But negotiating favourable trade deals for the UK is still a long way down the track, with the thorny issue of a referendum to win first.

As David Cameron presses for a vote before the summer, the various out camps appear to be stuck in a vicious cycle of infighting over who should lead the campaign.

With the Prime Minister potentially set to return from Brussels with a triumphal 'victory' on his renegotiation demands and with senior government ministers likely to back Cameron's call to stay in the Union, are Nuttall's dreams of life outside the EU crumbling?

"One of two things is going to happen in this referendum," he says. "Either we are going to win and then Ukip should get the plaudits. And if we get the plaudits, then we will go up in the polls."

"If we lose it, heaven forbid if we lose it and it is tight, then we could end up in a situation where you've got a large percentage of the people in Britain who are very angry indeed and then you could see Ukip benefiting from the so-called SNP (Scottish Nationalists) effect (defeated voters in the recent Scottish independence referendum ended up shifting their support to the SNP)."

"As a result of their anger, they got behind the SNP at the last British general election and they won every single Scottish seat bar three. Anger is a very powerful emotion indeed. So whatever happens, Ukip isn't going to go away."

In the event of a referendum victory, Nuttall and his 21 MEP colleagues would be out of a job. What then for the former academic?

"Wouldn't that be great, you know I work every single day for my own P45 (British end of employment certificate). I believe that we will probably be here, because under article 50 of the treaties it will take at least two years to negotiate ourselves out and Britain will still need a voice in the European Parliament. But after that, we will go back to our old jobs and our old lives and normality."

"My background is in education, I've lectured at further education colleges, I taught history at Liverpool Hope University before I came here and I will go back into academia."

 

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Brian Johnson is Managing Editor of the Parliament Magazine

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