UK INDEPENDENCE Party leader Nigel Farage said the “vast majority” of Romanians in the UK would make “good neighbours” as he sought to limit the damage caused by his controversial suggestion he would be concerned if a group of people from the eastern European country moved in next door.
The party took out a full-page advertisement in a national newspaper to insist Ukip was not racist but repeated its warning about the risk posed by organised criminal gangs from Romania.
Mr Farage said his comments about people being right to be concerned if a group of Romanian men moved in next door had caused a “predictable storm of protest and accusations of racism”.
The Ukip leader initially stood by his remarks, which came during a bruising interview with LBC, but last night he said: “Do you know what, in life sometimes people get things wrong.”
He told BBC News: “I regret the fact that I was completely tired out and I didn’t use the form of words in response that I would have liked to have used.
“I should have just hit back immediately and said: ‘Look, understand there is a real problem here - you can’t deny it - too much criminality from these gangs has come to London’.”
In an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph taking the form of an open letter from Mr Farage, the Ukip leader said: “Let me be clear - Ukip is not a racist party, and our immigration policy, far from being racist, aims to end discrimination against non-Europeans.
“The vast majority of Romanians who have come to the UK wish to better their lives and would make good neighbours.
“But there is a real problem, an unpalatable truth that our political class would rather not discuss. Since the welcome fall of Communism and the awful dictator Ceausescu, Romania has struggled to complete a full transition into a western democracy.”
There was discrimination against the Roma minority and a “huge problem” with the growth of criminal gangs, he said.
Mr Farage claimed European Union free movement rules meant there was “nothing the UK authorities can do to stop such people from entering our country”.
He said: “We should not be in a political union with Romania, with an opened door to all of their citizens.”
By leaving the EU and “taking back control of our borders” the “necessary checks” could be done on would-be immigrants.
“When this happens my answer to the question ‘should people be concerned if a group of Romanian men moved in next door?’ will be ‘no’.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that Mr Farage’s remarks had revealed his “divisive, nasty approach” to politics.
“I think the mask is starting to slip and I think what’s being revealed that sort of behind the beer-swilling bonhomie is a rather nasty view of the world,” he told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“I think anyone who singles out one community, one nationality, and says ‘I don’t want to live next door to them’, I really think that’s the politics of division and I think it really should have no place in modern Britain.”