Nigel Farage has launched Ukip's manifesto. Photo: Getty
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Ukip manifesto launch: out with the "drivel", in with the "serious"?

Ukip is launching its manifesto today, but confusion remains over some of its policies.

Ukip is launching its manifesto, which it claims contains “serious, fully-costed policies”.

Its last effort, dismissed as “drivel” by Nigel Farage, included a number of enjoyable proposals such as returning the London Underground’s Circle Line to going around in a circle, restoring the original larger size of British passports, “proper dress” for the theatre, and a dress code for taxi drivers.

In contrast, the top lines of its new programme for government are:

  • A referendum as soon as possible on Britain’s EU membership
  • Controls on immigration, and the introduction of a points-based system
  • Power for voters to recall MPs
  • An extra £3bn funding a year for the NHS
  • Taking those earning the minimum wage out of tax
  • 6,000 new jobs in the police force, prison service, and the UK border for armed forces veterans
  • Cutting the international development budget by £9bn
  • Removing stamp duty from the first £250,000 of new houses built on brownfield sites
  • Business rate cuts for small businesses
     

A manifesto with Ukip’s core values at its heart. But it has already been plagued by confusion. The immigration cap in particular has caused disagreement among Ukip’s high command.

Suzanne Evans, Ukip’s manifesto chief, revealed confusion about what constitutes skilled and unskilled migrants on the BBC’s Today programme this morning. She said that if gaps in the workforce are identified then farm labourers could come to the UK “if they are needed”.

This is in contrast to Ukip’s immigration spokesperson Steven Woolfe, who said the number of unskilled and low-skilled workers coming to this country would be “zero, ie. a moratorium, for five years”. Woolfe admitted on Sky News to a number of disagreements with Evans on Ukip’s immigration policy (which is supposed to limit skilled migrants to 50,000 a year, but not to put a cap on net migration).

Also, the Conservatives have been beavering away over the figures and point out that Ukip plans to fund 15 of its spending pledges with cuts to foreign aid, and suggest there is a “£37 billion black hole” in Ukip's spending plans.

Policy detail has never been Ukip’s forte. But nor has it been its problem. Voters don’t look to Ukip for a fiscally responsible, detailed policy plan. They look to Ukip for its tone. Its anti-Westminster establishment positioning and an anti-metropolitan elite ethos. And this all comes across clunkingly clearly in its new manifesto.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.