LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) has sparked a row over race, two months ahead of a closely fought national election, by calling for the scrapping of racial discrimination laws.
UKIP, which wants Britain to leave the European Union and slash immigration, is not expected to win many seats in the May 7 poll, but it could split particularly the right-wing vote, thereby dashing the re-election hopes of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives.
In a pre-recorded interview for Channel Four TV due to be broadcast next week, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said he thought laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of race or colour were no longer needed.
Asked whether he would leave such laws in place, Farage said: “No. We are colour blind. We as a party are colour blind.”
His political rivals condemned his remarks.
“Nigel Farage is attention seeking,” Cameron said on his official Twitter feed. “The laws protect people from racial discrimination. It’s deeply concerning he doesn’t understand that.”
Ed Miliband, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, also criticised Farage.
“Nigel Farage’s comments today are wrong, divisive and dangerous. The laws we have on equality represent our values as a country,” he said.
Farage said his remarks had been “wilfully misinterpreted”. He later tried to row back from his comments on Thursday, saying he wanted to repeal not the racial discrimination legislation but a “whole series” of employment laws.
Farage also said employers should be free to favour native Britons over foreigners and that the law should protect all British workers, regardless of skin colour.
“Media and other parties can try and skew what I’ve said but the truth is UKIP believes in Britain and we fight for it,” said Farage.
A YouGov poll published in the Sun newspaper on Thursday put support for UKIP at 14 percent. This would probably only translate into a small handful of seats as Britain’s winner-takes-all electoral system favours the big, established parties.
The opinion poll gave Labour 35 percent, Cameron’s Conservatives 34 percent and the Liberal Democrats, currently Cameron’s junior coalition partner, seven percent.
Additional reporting by William James; Editing by Gareth Jones