Farage: Migration has made parts of UK 'unrecognisable'
Parts of the UK have become "unrecognisable" due to the impact of mass immigration over the past decade, UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said.
He told activists at UKIP's spring conference that opening the UK's borders to new EU members had had a detrimental impact on social cohesion.
He also said he felt "uncomfortable" about the unwillingness of new arrivals to learn and speak English.
Mr Farage has insisted he believes his party can win May's European elections.
In a speech to party members in Torquay he said that "open door, mass immigration" had hurt the poorest in the UK and that UKIP - which wants to leave the EU - would lead a "patriotic fightback" in May.'Betrayed'
While UKIP supported migrants coming to the UK to fill specific jobs - where there were skills shortages - he said economic problems in the eurozone meant the influx of low-skilled labour to the UK was likely to accelerate and questioned the social and cultural impact it had had.
"In scores of our cities and market towns, this country, in a short space of time, has, frankly, become unrecognisable.
"Whether it is the impact on local schools and hospitals, whether it is the fact that in many parts of England you don't hear English spoken any more, this is not the kind of community we want to leave to our children and grandchildren."
The UK, Mr Farage said, had been "betrayed" by "a political class that had sold out to Brussels", resulting in the undermining of legal and political institutions and the loss of control over the country's borders.
The latest official figures, which showed a sharp rise in net migration last year driven by new arrivals from within the EU, illustrated the scale of the problem facing the UK, he added.
"You cannot have your own immigration policy and remain a member of the European Union," he said.
He suggested fundamental changes in the UK's relationship with Brussels were "unobtainable" and that David Cameron's pledge of a referendum in 2017 was designed to "kick the issue in the long grass" until after the general election.'Patriotic'
Mr Farage later told the BBC that UKIP had made debating the issue of immigration "responsible" and that patriotism was "not something to be brushed under the carpet or sneered at".
2009 EUROPEAN ELECTION RESULTS
- Conservatives - 27%
- UKIP - 16.5%
- Labour - 15.7%
- Lib Dems - 13.7%
- Green Party - 8.6%
- BNP - 6.2%
Speaking at a subsequent Q&A session, Mr Farage said he did not blame young Romanians and Bulgarians coming to the UK to look for work, given the disparity in wages between the respective countries.
But, recounting a train journey he had taken recently between London and Kent, he said he felt "slightly awkward" at the fact so little English was spoken and suggested learning the language was vital to the process of newcomers integrating.
Reflecting on UKIP's recent surge in the opinion polls and its electoral success, he said the party was "on the march" and represented "the biggest threat to the political establishment that has been seen in modern times".
He suggested UKIP could pull off the "biggest political shock" in years by beating Labour and the Conservatives in this May's European elections and this would be a springboard for it to get its first MPs elected in 2015.
"This is the moment we have waited for," he said. "This is the big one for UKIP. We can achieve something remarkable and can top these European polls."Poll hopes
Despite hopes of creating a "political earthquake", one recent poll suggested UKIP was currently in third place behind both Labour and the Conservatives.
While Mr Farage suggested up to a quarter of MEPs in the next European Parliament could hold eurosceptic views, he suggested their numbers would not be sufficient to block legislation.
He also said UKIP would not work with the Front National, the French far-right party, saying its politics was based on "race and religion" and that it was "unreformable".
However, the party has faced questions of its own after it emerged its new slogan 'Love Britain, Vote UKIP' was once used by the far-right BNP.
"It is our slogan now, we are keeping it," Mr Farage told the BBC, saying the party was "reclaiming" the phrase.
Asked about the mixed record of its party since the 2009 elections, which has seen five of its MEPs either defect or been removed from the party, Mr Farage said UKIP had had "one or two bad apples which we have got rid of".
The number of female candidates standing in May showed the extent to which the party had changed, he added.
"The most significant change is the rise of women in the party," he said. "Our women have achieve these positions on the European elections lists through merit, which is the example of the kind of society we want to live in."