IRISH people in Britain are “not immigrants” Ukip claimed this week while confirming that Ireland would not be subject to the party’s controversial anti-immigration policies.
Yet foreign nationals from elsewhere across Europe remain unwelcome in Nigel Farage’s party’s plans for the country, by-election candidate Mark Reckless revealed to The Irish Post.
Ukip’s “official statement” on Ireland was due to be released ahead of the Rochester and Strood by-election today, November 20, where Reckless – a second generation Irishman – is hoping to be re-elected for the right-wing party.
Ahead of polling day the “optimistic” candidate spoke exclusively to The Irish Post on Ukip’s divisive immigration policies.
“We want to make it very clear that we don’t see Irish people as immigrants and they will not be subject to the immigration controls we are applying on other EU countries,” the Tory defector explained.
“People have moved around these islands since time immemorial and Irish people are welcome in the UK under longstanding bilateral arraignments,” he added.
Despite his Co. Sligo mother coming to Britain to find work at the age of 17, Reckless, who faces the polls as a Ukip candidate for the first time this week, claims he does not have an immigrant background.
“I don’t see my Irish mother as an immigrant any more than I see my Scottish wife as one,” he states. “My mother was born in Sligo and brought up in Dún Laoghaire in a harbour master’s cottage at the end of the pier.”
“She came to England when she was 17 to train as a nurse, where she met my father, who is a British doctor. But I don’t consider myself to have an immigrant background, people on these islands have moved around for time immemorial and for much of that period it was a single political unit.”
He adds: “I don’t see why Irish people should be classified as immigrants when we had a very long period of freedom of movement and common government across these islands and when that changed we agreed that the previous arrangements in terms of freedom of movement and labour and voting would continue.”
While the Euro-sceptic party seeks to reassure the Irish of their immigration intentions this week they are similarly clear that foreign nationals from across the remainder of Europe – particularly eastern and southern areas – would be less welcome in a Ukip-led Britain.
“The changes we want to make are to apply an Australian-style points-based system to people from countries in the EU and outside of the EU, but it will not apply to people from the Republic of Ireland,” Reckless confirms.
And it’s those policies that the parliamentary candidate believes are winning him most support in his Kent constituency, even among its Irish constituents.
“I have met a lot of individuals and families with Irish heritage [in Rochester and Strood] and I am finding very strong support from them,” he explains.
“One area of our policies they are attracted to is immigration; having proper controls and restrictions on people coming into the area from eastern and now increasingly southern Europe, which people, including those of an Irish heritage, feel is holding back wages and opportunities for them in our labour market.”
When quizzed on the many Irish people currently coming to Britain to join the workforce, he added: “Most of my constituents wouldn’t distinguish between English, Irish, Welsh or Scottish people in the way that they might distinguish people coming from eastern or southern Europe.”
In fact he claims the Irish are choosing to back Ukip’s policies as an alternative to supporting Labour.
“During the campaign generally what has surprised me most is the number of people who previously voted Labour who are coming over to me,” he explained, “and there are certainly a good number of people of Irish heritage represented in that group.”
“They are attracted to Ukip due to a desire to control immigration from southern and eastern Europe” he added, “but also a belief that Labour’s Ed Miliband doesn’t really represent them or speak to them and that David Cameron has made the election all about himself. So Labour voters who want to beat the Conservatives now look to Ukip.”
And as polling day approaches in the by-election triggered by Reckless’ defection from the Tories in September, he claims he will be canvassing right up to the end.
“I’m optimistic for Thursday,” he admits, “but we will be fighting for every vote up until the polls open.”
And despite claiming a non-immigrant background, when questioned on his ability to represent the Irish in Rochester and Strood Reckless believes he is more than capable.
“I can represent the Irish community in my constituency and I certainly would,” he says.
“Even within my own family, where my mother is from Ireland and my brother has married an Irishwoman, I find quite a variety and degree of nuances in terms of how Irish people feel and how key to their identity that is, and others who have come to combine their Irish identity into feeling British, if not English, as well.
“I do understand that,” he adds.