The Guardian and Independent front pages yesterday reported on comments Nigel Farage is said to have made in a documentary fronted by former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, and due to air on Channel 4 next week about scrapping race discrimination legislation in the UK and referring to Muslims as “fifth columnists”.
The comments, taken from a press release issued by Channel 4 about the documentary, show Farage responding to questions about race discrimination legislation in the UK and whether UKIP would maintain it.
According to the release, Farage responded in the affirmative to a question about whether he believed there was too much anti-discrimination legislation. When probed about what of it he would great rid, he said:
“Much of it. I think the employer should be much freer to make decisions on who he or she employs. I think the situation that we now have, where an employer is not allowed to choose between a British-born person and somebody from Poland, is a ludicrous state of affairs. I think that we have taken our relationship with Europe to a level that, frankly, has gone against common sense, and certainly against self-interest.”
“I would argue that the law does need changing, and that if an employer wishes to choose, or you can use the word ‘discriminate’ if you want to, but wishes to choose to employ a British-born person, they should be allowed to do so. … I think you should be able to choose on the basis of nationality, yes. I do.”
When asked a follow up question as to whether law would extend to protect against discrimination on grounds of race of colour, Farage said, “No…. because we take the view, we are colour-blind. We as a party are colour-blind.”
Farage’s comments on scrapping “much” discrimination legislation comes as the Labour Party yesterday revealed long term unemployment among BME youth rose 49% since 2010 and a report at the end of last year showing British Muslims faced the highest level of job discrimination of all groups. It would be interesting to see how Farage’s “colour-blind” orientation and removal of “much” discrimination legislation would do to reverse these trends.
Interesting to note too that Farage’s comments coincide with the publication by the London School of Economics and Manchester University of a report on The Changing Anatomy of Economic Inequality in London (2007-2013). According to the report, Muslims were more likely to be classified as long term unemployed in 2007/08 in London and in the rest of England, and in the rest of England in 2012/13, coming second (to Buddhists) in London.
With the level of discrimination faced in the workplace on grounds of race and/or religion, it is difficult to see how targeted interventions could happen when a “colour blind” policy glossed over groups disproportionately affected.
Farage goes on in the interview to make some specifically derogatory remarks about British Muslims drawing on the few who are reported to travelled abroad to join ISIL saying:
“I think perhaps one of the reasons the polls show an increasing level of concern is because people do see a fifth column living within our country, who hate us and want to kill us. So don’t be surprised if there isn’t a slight increase in people’s worries and concerns. You know, when you’ve got British, when you’ve got people, born and bred in Cardiff, with British passports, going out to fight for ISIL, don’t be surprised if there isn’t an uptick in concern. There has been an uptick in concern, but does it make us a prejudiced people? No.”
Farage then went on to compare Muslim migration to the UK to earlier episodes saying:
“The problem that we’ve got is that if you think about all those [groups of previous immigrants], think about the Huguenots, think about the Jews, think about the Ugandan Asians. Whilst in some cases they maintain their private observance of their faiths and their traditions, in public they actually became an integrated part of our society and of our culture. There is an especial problem with some of the people who’ve come here and who are of the Muslim religion who don’t want to become part of our culture. So there is no previous experience, in our history, of a migrant group that comes to Britain that fundamentally wants to change who we are and what we are. That is, I think, above everything else, what people are really concerned about.”
Farage’s comments about Muslims being a “fifth column” is remarkable given survey data on the level of Muslim identification with British identity and British national institutions.
Farage also adopts a rather simplistic mode of explanation for radicalisation and foreign fighters suggesting this is a problem of lack of integration not, as many other researchers have pointed out, often those who have gone on to commit terrorist atrocities have evinced all the usual signs of being integrated. There also appears no admission, as others have argued, of the role played by Britain and foreign wars or domestic policy, in creating an environment genial to the degree of disaffection that renders individuals vulnerable to radicalisation.
The claim that Muslims find it hardest to integrate has been voiced often in the past, by people such as Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch, but as Trevor Phillips himself conceded when chair of the EHRC, “Muslim communities in this country are doing their damnedest to try to come to terms with their neighbours to try to integrate and they’re doing their best to try to develop an idea of Islam that is compatible with living in a modern liberal democracy.”