UKIP: Should Polish plumbers be deported?

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Media captionNigel Farage: "There is no confusion. Anybody who legally came to Britain will be allowed to remain"

"Go back home". That's the phrase which captures one of the most controversial ideas in British politics - the idea that some immigrants, even those here legally, should be deported.

No wonder then that the failure of UKIP's by-election candidate to clearly reject the idea has caused such a fuss.

Twice last night Mark Reckless was asked whether a Polish plumber who lives in Rochester would be able to stay in the country if Britain decided to leave the EU.

First he said the Polish plumber might be allowed to stay for a fixed period then he said UKIP would look sympathetically at the cases of people who'd been here for a long time.

This morning UKIP said their candidate had been misunderstood.

Then they claimed he'd been asked about illegal immigration. He had not and a Polish person would, in any event, have been here legally.

Hours later the party leader Nigel Farage told me that his candidate was confused after a long campaign.

He insisted that under the party's policy no-one here legally would face deportation.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Reckless was pressed on the future of EU migrants at a televised election hustings

UKIP have reacted today by condemning a Tory leaflet which suggested that one impact of uncontrolled immigration was that people didn't feel safe walking down the high street.

They argue that they have forced all the established parties to debate the issue of immigration which was, for years, considered off the political agenda.

They are, though, now facing the sort of scrutiny those parties have become used to. It is not always very comfortable.

This is not the first time in recent days that UKIP has tried to un-say what they've been recorded saying. Last week Nigel Farage was seen on tape suggesting that the NHS should, in effect, be scrapped and replaced by an insurance system run by private companies - a policy which he insisted had been considered and then rejected.

He and his party have risen in the polls so far that they're widely expected to win tomorrow's by-election - even though the prime minister promised to "throw the kitchen sink" at winning back a seat held by a former Tory MP who defected.

Their rise has been fuelled by two crucial factors - their claim to "tell it like it is" and their insistence that their views are not extreme.

First on the NHS and now on immigration both claims are being challenged.

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This is the transcript of last night's exchanges :

Question: "What would happen if we left the European Union? What would happen to the Polish plumber who lives in Rochester? Would he be able to stay? Would he have to go back?"

Mark Reckless: "I think in the near term we'd have to have a transitional period, and I think we should probably allow people who are currently here to have a work permit at least for a fixed period."

Question: "Forgive me, if there's a polish plumber who, for instance, has got a house, a family, got kids at the local school? Are you going to deport him?"

Mark Reckless: "I think people who have been here a long time and integrated in that way I think we'd want to look sympathetically at. But what we would want to do, is new people coming in... (interrupted) what we would want to do is look at new people coming in and apply an Australian style points system. And the same with people coming from Europe, as we do with people coming from say the Commonwealth, from Australia, Africa, India, the Caribbean, we shouldn't have a discriminatory system which favours Europeans from people outside."

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