Ukip to launch its own No campaign for EU referendum
Ukip will this week launch its own campaign for a No vote in the upcoming referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, separate from two existing campaigns, leader Nigel Farage has said.
Mr Farage confirmed he will not seek designation for himself or his party as official leaders of the No campaign in the referendum due by the end of 2017, but said Ukip activists and branches across the country could "do the ground campaign" of leafleting and holding public meetings to spread the "Brexit" message.
He made clear Ukip will make immigration a central focus of its campaign, warning that the EU's common asylum policy had opened the doors to an "exodus of biblical proportions" of migrants seeking to start new lives in Europe.
Mr Farage said he was ready to work with anybody in the battle for withdrawal from the EU, but would not be signing his party up to either the No campaign set up at Westminster or the Know group launched by Ukip donor Arron Banks and other business figures.
But he said he hoped the two groups would join forces by the time the Electoral Commission makes its decision on the designation of an official campaign, which will benefit from higher spending limits, television broadcasts and grants.
Critics have warned that the Ukip leader is too divisive to act as figurehead for the official No campaign.
He declined to say who he would like to see as campaign leader, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I haven't got a clue at this stage ... This referendum may be some way off, it may well be somebody we haven't even considered, somebody from the world of entertainment or business who has never been in politics at all."
Mr Farage - who is expected to launch the Ukip campaign on Friday - said his party's activists were "raring to go" to counter the efforts of pro-Europeans like Tony Blair, Lord Mandelson and Sir Richard Branson, who have already been making the case for continued EU membership.
He said that people who have voted for Ukip over the past few years could deliver 60% of the vote needed to win the referendum for No.
He told Today: "Let's be clear. I am not refusing to work with anybody. I will work with absolutely anyone for us to get a No vote in this referendum.
"There are two competing groups who want to get the nomination for the No campaign. All I am saying is I am not choosing one side or the other. We will work with whichever of them gets the nomination.
"But before we get to that point, I would hope there will be a coming together between the two of them."
Mr Farage acknowledged that Ukip deputy chairman Suzanne Evans had described him as too divisive to lead the official No campaign, but added: "She also said we shouldn't major on immigration in the referendum, which I think is wrong."
He told Today that Britain should follow Austria's lead in tightening up checks at borders to prevent illegal immigrants entering the country.
"The EU have sent a message that anybody who comes across the Mediterranean or comes through Turkey, once they have set foot in an EU country they will be accepted," he said.
"That's sent a message to hundreds of thousands of people that they can come."
"Genuine" refugees had historically tended to be members of ethnic or religious groups fleeing for their lives said Mr Farage.
But he said: "The problem we have now is if you look at the definition of the EU's asylum policy, it includes anybody who comes from a war-torn country and it even includes people leaving extreme poverty.
"The problem we've got is potentially we've opened the door to an exodus of biblical proportions, meaning millions and millions of people. We've lost sight of what is a genuine refugee.
"How many millions does Europe want to take? That really is the question."
Britain should offer refugee status to "a few thousand people" from Syria but cannot provide an open door to migrants, he said.
"I think we are going to have to start doing what the Austrians did yesterday," said Mr Farage. "The Austrians stopped lorries and stopped cars and checked and found 200 people who were smuggled trying to come into their country.
"We are going to have to accept that crossing borders is going to get more difficult if we are serious about dealing with illegal immigration."