Bad-tempered clashes over immigration during general election debate

Leader of Reform UK, Nigel Farage, accused of 'bigotry' as he sparred with opponents

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, left, disputes a point with Plaid Cymru's Rhun ap Iorwerth during the BBC Election Debate in London. Photo: PA News
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Bad-tempered clashes over immigration were at the heart of the latest UK general election television debate between the parties.

The panel featured Penny Mordaunt, the Conservative Leader of the House of Commons, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper, Stephen Flynn, leader of the Scottish National Party at Westminster, Plaid Cymru's Rhun ap Iorwerth, Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer, and Reform UK’s leader Nigel Farage.

The debate was opened by Mr Farage, leader of the populist anti-immigration party, who was a driving force behind Brexit.

The net legal migration figure last year was 685,000, the second-highest in the UK’s history. Both Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his challenger, Labour leader Keir Starmer, have pledged to lower the number.

Mr Farage used the evening to focus on immigration and claimed he was “on a platform tonight with six other people whose parties have been wholly unconcerned” with the issue, but was later accused of bigotry as he sparred with opponents.

The tone of the debate was set when Mr Farage began by saying “let’s deal with some logic” at which point Mr Flynn interjected: “That would be a novelty for you.”

The Reform leader accused both the Conservative government and its Labour predecessor of creating a population crisis by allowing net migration to rise, which had put a strain on public services,

“Frankly, it's making us poorer, it’s diminishing our quality of life and it’s nothing to do with race, or any of those issues but putting the interest of our communities first,” he said.

Mr Flynn said there needed to be an “end to the demonisation of migration”.

“Migration is absolutely essential to our public services, it’s absolutely essential to our businesses, and it’s absolutely essential to our economic growth,” he said.

He said Scotland needed migration and there had been a “race to the bottom” on the issue “led by Nigel Farage, followed by the Conservative Party and hotly chased by the Labour Party”.

Mr Flynn said voters had been “led down the garden path by the right wing in British politics for far too long. We need to stand against it, we need to promote our economy, promote our public services, and do so by promoting migration”.

Mr Farage was also attacked by Mr ap Iorwerth, who drew applause from the audience when he said Mr Farage “wants to make this an immigration election for his own self-interest”.

“Let’s change the tone of the debate on immigration. Too much of it is framed around, frankly, the bigotry of Nigel Farage,” he said.

He said Ms Mourdant “can’t stand up to Nigel Farage because she wants her party to be like Nigel Farage, and Angela Rayner can’t stand up to Nigel Farage because of the shift in her party to the right”.

A snap viewer poll later found that Mr Farage had been the most persuasive voice during the debate.

The poll, conducted by research company More In Common, asked more than 1,000 viewers who carried the debate, with 25 per cent of respondents opting for Mr Farage.

Among those who voted Conservative in 2019, 47 per cent placed the Reform leader first.

Ms Rayner was favoured by 19 per cent of the respondents, while 14 per cent said there was no winner.

Updated: June 08, 2024, 11:48 AM