Confusion over Ukip’s immigration policies deepened as Nigel Farage warned that a cap on numbers of migrants coming to Britain was “mathematically impossible”, but went on to suggest there should be an annual limit of less than 50,000.
He also insisted he would be prepared to sacrifice economic growth as the price for tougher border controls and repeated a claim that children in some towns no longer played outdoors because of immigration.
Ukip’s original preference for a 50,000 cap was torn up by Mr Farage last month, arguing that “arbitrary targets” only led to “broken promises”.
Three days ago Mr Farage said he favoured an annual limit of “about a net 30,000 people”, but yesterday he described that figure as a target rather than a cap and reinstated Ukip’s original number.
Asked for his cap on people coming into the country, Mr Farage said: “It is below 50,000 a year, all right? It’s below 50,000 a year, simple as that.”
But he added: “We have been tied up with caps for five years, it’s devalued the debate. What we’re not actually addressing is the fact that 624,000 people settled in Britain last year and we have no control over the numbers that settle this year or next year.”
Ukip's confusing policies
Ukip's confusing policies
1/6 Deport migrants
Ukip MP Mark Reckless suggested he would deport existing EU migrants, a policy Nigel Farage rejected out of hand.
2/6 US-style NHS
Farage was caught on film in 2012 saying healthcare headed towards insurance-based system, though he has since said he would keep it free at the point of use.
3/6 Handbag tax
Ukip Economy spokesman Patrick O'Flynn said he would introduce a tax on high-price items like shoes, Nigel Farage disowned this idea.
4/6 Same-sex couple adoption
Ukip candidate Winston McKenzie likened adoption by same-sex couples to "child abuse", but the party rejects that view.
5/6 Gay marriage?
In early 2014 Ukip released a statement saying it would review its gay marriage policy, but later said that was an error.
6/6 Sex education u-turn
Nigel Farage told Leaders Live that he backed sex education for under-11s but later admitted that is not Ukip policy.
Ukip has put a pledge to “control our borders” at the heart of its election campaign, arguing that leaving the European Union would enable Britain to get a grip on numbers of foreign nationals coming to this country.
It is accusing Labour and the Conservatives of presiding over “uncontrolled mass immigration” over the last 15 years.
Mr Farage told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he did not believe tight curbs on migration would lead to the British economy suffering.
But he added: “If you said to me, that if we carry on with current immigration our population will hit 75m by 2030 but we’d all be slightly better off, I would say I would prefer not to be better off and have a country that didn't go to 75m, where young people could aspire to buy houses and where British families could get jobs and a decent standard of living.
“Some things matter more than money and I think the shape of our communities and the sense of contentment living in the country matters more.”
The Ukip leader said he stood by his recent claim that children no longer played football in the streets in some towns because communities felt a “deep level of discomfort” about numbers of newly-arrived migrants.
Challenged to name towns where that had happened, he replied: “Travel up the eastern spine of England. Go to Peterborough, go to Boston, go and see the fact that we don’t have integration under what has happened.”
He also conceded that his party’s popularity had slipped slightly since last year’s “remarkable” performance which left it with two MPs.
“We won the European elections, we had two surprise defections, principled resignations and we won by-elections people didn’t think we could win. We have dipped a little bit since then.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: “Nigel Farage is all over the place on immigration. Only last month he said there would be no caps or targets under Ukip. Today he has said there will. Which is it?”
The Tory candidate in Dover, Charlie Elphicke, said: “Ukip’s immigration policy doesn’t just change by the day, it changes by the minute.”
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