The leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party won't back down from his party's controversial immigration policies despite the recent killing of a soldier in London which has increased racial tension. And he said Britain has been "gutless" in stopping radical Muslim preachers.
The party, known as Ukip, has been surging in popularity recently with its message of tighter controls on immigration and pulling Britain out of the European Union. British Prime Minister David Cameron once dismissed Ukip as being full of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists," but the party is now nearly as popular as Mr. Cameron's Conservatives according to some recent polls.
The killing of soldier Lee Rigby this week, who was hacked to death on a city street and left for dead by two men who allegedly shouted "Allah akbar," or God is great, has prompted a backlash with demonstrations by extremist groups and a couple of mosques being vandalized. Questions have been raised about whether Ukip's message on immigration has fed some of the anger.
On Friday the party's leader, Nigel Farage, rejected that assertion.
"We as a party are open to people from all backgrounds and all races and all religions and indeed an increasing number of ethnic minorities in Britain are voting Ukip," he told a group of foreign journalists. "But we believe that actually getting a grip on Britain's immigration policy might just give us a chance for more assimilation."
Mr. Farage said he was shocked by Mr. Rigby's death and he hoped it was a one-off incident and not part of a wider plot. But he stood by his party's stance on tightening immigration, particularly from Eastern Europe.
"The honest truth is that what we have said quite clearly for some years is that excessive open door immigration leads to split communities and leads to enmities between groups of people," he said. "I can promise you that if we went out to the eastern spine of England you would find every cathedral city, indeed every market town, has been fundamentally changed in the course of the last ten years by a wholly irresponsible, utterly stupid open door immigration policy to Eastern Europe."
Mr. Farage added that he expects some extremists to take advantage of the killing over the coming long-weekend in Britain. "It's a bank holiday weekend, they'll all be on the booze, they'll all be on the streets and it's going to be very, very ugly," he said. "My political party wants absolutely nothing to do with these people whatsoever."
Mr. Farage also said Britain had been "gutless" in dealing with radical Muslim clerics who allegedly have incited violence.
"What has been happening because of the cowardness of the establishment in this country is we have just been turning a blind eye," he said. "Turning a blind eye to hate preachers, turning blind eye to polygamy, turning a blind eye to the imposition of sharia in parts of our big cities." Referring specifically to so called hate preachers, Mr. Farage added: "This should have been stopped years and years and years ago. We have been gutless."
The murder of Mr. Rigby has raised questions about these radical preachers. On Friday, Omar Bakri, who founded a banned British Islamist group called Al Muhajiroun, told Reuters from his home in Lebanon that he knew one of the alleged killers and said he acted with courage. "When I saw that, honestly I was very surprised – standing firm, courageous, brave," he told the news agency. "Not running away. Rather, he said why he carried (it out) and he wanted the whole world to hear it."
He added: "I think [the suspect Michael Abebolajo] is going to stand for what God has destined for him," Bakri said, speaking in English. "God destined for him to carry out the attack and God destined for the British soldier to die for the cause he believed in."