Ukip '100% united' on EU referendum
Ukip will be going into Britain's EU referendum campaign "100% united", Nigel Farage has insisted following an unsettled post-election period for the party.
The Ukip leader argued that it was other parties which were "very, very divided" as he sought to play down reported tensions in recent days within Ukip's ranks.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "What has happened in Ukip is, since the election, after the pressure cooker atmosphere of a campaign office, one or two regrettable things were said and done by a very small number of people.
"But I tell you where this leaves Ukip going into this referendum campaign, unlike the other parties - united, 100% united. We have for over 20 years fought hard to make the EU an issue.
"We were told we were the mad men from the hills for even considering whether Britain could have a future outside of political union and we now have a referendum on this subject. We are united; the other parties are very, very divided."
Ukip MEP Patrick O'Flynn yesterday stepped down as the party's economic spokesman and apologised to Mr Farage for publicly calling him "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive".
The former journalist told colleagues he felt "sincere regret" for giving a hostile newspaper interview amid controversy within the ranks over Mr Farage continuing in his role despite promising to quit if he failed to win a Commons seat.
After announcing that he was tendering his resignation as leader, the party's executive rejected it.
Mr O'Flynn's comments led to open party warfare, with several senior Ukip figures calling for Mr Farage to stand down while others lined up to defend him, and two key officials lost their jobs.
CBI president Sir Mike Rake is urging businesses to "speak out early" in favour of remaining in a reformed European Union, arguing that the time is "ripe" for reforming the EU as the new Government presses ahead with its promised in-out referendum. He will tell the business group's annual dinner in London that the time had come for business to "turn up the volume" on the issue, in a language people can understand.
But Mr Farage claimed such sentiments were "wrong".
He said: "The whole point about the CBI and many of these big multinational companies is that when it came to the debate 13 years ago about whether Britain should join the euro or not, they all said unless Britain joined the euro we'd miss out on investment and it would be a disaster. Well they were proved wrong about that and I think they are wrong about this.
"They are trying to give us the impression, firstly that Britain can have significant influence in Brussels and change legislation."
He added: "But the really big myth that is put about by the CBI and is put about by the big political parties is that unless you are a member of political union you can't buy and sell goods from each other which clearly is utter nonsense.
"We are the biggest export market in the world for the eurozone and it's in their interests to get a sensible free trade deal quickly even more than us."
Mr Farage said Europe was an important market but it was a "declining every single year that goes by" adding Britain would be "far better off with our hands free to make our own deals across the globe".
He said: "The Ukip argument, the positive argument, is that we are living in a global economy, we've got emerging economies, many of them incidentally Commonwealth countries and we are unable as we are stuck in this customs union called the EU, we're unable to make our own trade deals, with any other part of the world. What we're saying is that actually as a trading nation, we'd be far better off with our hands free to make our own deals across the globe."
Mr Farage argued in seeking to renegotiate its relationship with Europe, Britain was entering into an attempted "great stitch up where the European Commission and the European Council are seen to give some cosmetic concessions to Britain, Mr (David) Cameron cries victory and on the basis of that we are supposed to support him in the referendum".
Ukip deputy chairman Suzanne Evans confirmed yesterday that s he will no longer be the party's policy chief.
Asked about her departure from the role, Mr Farage said: "Well, she came in a few months ago to put together the manifesto, which is a job that she did very successfully, and her contract runs out next week. I have other plans for what Suzanne Evans can do for Ukip, I think she is potentially a great electoral asset for us."
Asked if she was a potential leader, he added: "That would be ridiculous of me to say who should be the next leader because that wouldn't do them any favours at all. There is no question that she's a very able woman."
Mr Farage said opinion polls showed "overwhelming support for my view that health tourism was costing Britain too much money".
On the timing of an EU referendum, he said: "I strongly suspect that this referendum will be held in May next year to coincide with the Scottish, London, Welsh and Northern Irish elections, so we haven't got very long."
Mr Farage said he was adamant that the party's tone "isn't going to change", adding that he fought a wholly "positive campaign".
Acknowledging some differences of opinion within the party, he said: "Some people in my own party don't think immigration is as important as I think it is and that is natural in politics. We all have slightly different emphases."
On his concerns about immigrants coming to Britain for free treatment for HIV, he said: "Ukip is a positive political party. If some people found me talking about the HIV thing difficult, I'm sorry, but an overwhelming majority of the public agreed with me."
Mr Farage said Britain "definitely" needed a new electoral system.
He said: "No, I'm not happy at all, in fact I'm very angry that four million people, the third biggest party in Britain... I mean never, ever, in the history of British politics have so many voters been so unrepresented."
Mr Farage had promised to resign the leadership if he lost the Thanet South constituency at the general election and followed through on his pledge within minutes of defeat being confirmed. The U-turn came after party officials said he retained strong backing from party members.
Asked if he was wrong at the time to make that pledge, he said: "Yes, things do evolve, politics is changing very quickly."
He added: "We have a referendum on our hands, I believe it is going to be next May. I left the world of business to come into politics because I want Britain to have a trade relationship with Europe, but not to be part of political union. So now is the time and that's why I've stayed in position."
On the issue of migrants attempting to cross to Europe via the Mediterranean, Mr Farage said: "Of course what is happening in North Africa is ghastly, we contributed to it. The bombing of Libya was one of the great foreign policy mistakes of the last few years.
"But I'm afraid we are sending out the wrong messages. Basically we are saying 'If you come, we will accept you'. The terms for European asylum are very, very wide.
"What I am going to say today is we must not allow our compassion to imperil our security."