Nigel Farage under fire over 'Sunak doesn’t care about our culture' claim

Reform UK party leader's comments dismissed by shadow cabinet minister as 'dog whistle' to stir right-wing voters

An event in England commemorating the D-Day landings. The Prime Minister has been criticised after leaving early from a D-Day ceremony in France last week. PA
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Reform UK party leader Nigel Farage is facing criticism after claiming Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose parents are East African Indians who migrated to the UK, does not care about "our culture”.

Mr Sunak was forced to apologise to army veterans after he left the D-Day commemorations in Normandy early on Monday to attend a TV interview in the UK as part of his election campaign, causing widespread backlash.

Labour leader Keir Starmer and influential Conservative Penny Mordaunt were among those who criticised Mr Sunak's decision but some said Mr Farage's comments went too far.

“It shows the man doesn’t understand,” Mr Farage told Sky News. "He is not patriotic. He doesn’t care about our history, our culture."

Some have interpreted the comments as a reference to Mr Sunak’s heritage, by a politician who has put anti-immigration policies at the heart of his party agenda.

Mr Farage tried to distance himself from the allegations on Sunday, referring to soldiers from the Commonwealth who fought in the British Army and claiming his comments were a reference to Mr Sunak’s wealth.

“Forty per cent of our contribution came from the Commonwealth. [Mr Sunak] is utterly disconnected by class, by privilege and from how ordinary people in the country feel,” he said, appearing on the BBC via video link from Clacton, the Essex constituency where he is seeking election on July 4.

The Reform party is running on an anti-immigration ticket, from which it seeks to gain Conservative votes. Recent polling by Savanta shows Labour with a 20 per cent lead over the Tories.

Shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood described Mr Farage's comments as a “dog whistle” intended to incite right-wing voters.

“It’s a classic Nigel Farage trick,” she told the BBC. "Lean just enough to signal a bit of a dog whistle, and lean straight back and sound perfectly reasonable.

“It’s completely unacceptable. This is a man who has a track record of seeking to divide communities. He just wants to do it with a veneer of respectability."

Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, also described the comments as “deeply regrettable … I feel very uncomfortable with that”.

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Mr Stride said he has been “proud” to work with Mr Sunak in what has been the UK’s most diverse cabinet in history.

“It’s a personal pride … that I’ve sat around a cabinet table that’s the most diverse in history,” he said.

“His [Mr Sunak's] involvement in government has been characterised as outstanding public service and I’m very proud of that."

Mr Farage had a milkshake thrown at him this week in Clacton-on-Sea, soon after the surprise announcement of his political comeback as leader of Reform UK, which he founded as the Brexit Party in 2019.

The former member of the European Parliament and leader of Ukip has never been elected to the House of Commons, despite standing as a parliamentary candidate 7 times since 1997.

Mr Farage on Sunday claimed the ballot on July 4 should be the “migration election”.

“The Conservatives have broken trust with the country, repeated promises in manifesto after manifest to reduce net migration to tens of thousands a year,” he said.

“They’ve opened the door to such a scale ... the numbers are astonishing, the breach of trust is huge.

“This should be the immigration election. The exploding population is impacting on housing, on rents … on the health service. The other two parties don’t want to talk about it.

Rejecting the Savanta data, which showed Reform polling at 11 per cent compared to the Conservatives' 26 per cent, he said other polling companies had revealed Reform UK to be ahead of the Conservatives in the Red Wall – northern constituencies that historically vote Labour where an unexpected shift to the Conservatives took place in 2019.

Mr Farage said "the real question" was who would provide the main opposition to a Labour government led by Keir Starmer. “The Conservatives are incapable of it,” he said.

Former Conservative home secretary Amber Rudd was another who dismissed his comments. “He has no idea how to deliver,” she said.

Mr Farage had made immigration a central issue of Ukip’s Brexit campaign, making promises that did not come to fruition, Ms Rudd added.

“The whole Brexit campaign was about immigration. Vote for Brexit so we can curtail immigration, on and on it went. And actually, immigration has continued to increase eight years after we voted,” she said.

Updated: June 09, 2024, 10:14 PM