UK Elections: Farage Plays Migration Card Eyeing Conservatives’ Second Place


By Chris Powers

(EurActiv) — Immigration will decide who wins the UK general elections scheduled for 4 July, said former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, as his party Reform UK hopes to usurp the Conservatives from second place and become the main opposition to the Labour Party.

“This is the immigration election”, Farage posted on X on Tuesday (28 May).

However, according to a YouGov survey, immigration is the third major concern for British citizens.

Economy and health top the list, scoring 51% and 45% respectively. Migration and asylum scored 40%, the highest since the immediate aftermath of the 2016 referendum on EU membership, a campaign which relied heavily on anti-immigration arguments.

When it comes to polls, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party has retained a 20-plus percentage point lead over the Conservatives since Prime Minister Rushi Sunak took over in October 2022.

While the political parties have not yet released their manifestoes, the Labour campaign is expected to focus on the economy and health, with migration taking a less prominent role.

But while the interests of voters are elsewhere, the Conservative government’s persistent attempts to pass a bill to deport irregular migrants and asylum seekers to Rwanda, has taken up plenty of column inches.

However, the bill has sparked outrage from human rights and refugee groups, copycat attempts from various EU leaders, and a high court battle.

Anti-migrant, but anti which migrant?

While Sunak and Farage are both campaigning on the theme of migration, they seem to be targeting different groups.

Sunak’s Rwanda plan aims to deter people from trying to enter the UK in ways many British stakeholders consider illegal.

When it comes to attempts by irregular migrants and asylum seekers to cross the English Channel in small boats, the three largest nationalities making the crossings are Vietnamese, Albanian, and Afghan.

According to the UK’s Home Office data, the numbers decreased from almost 46,000 in 2022 to just under 30,000 in 2023. Numbers for 2024 suggest a similar trajectory to both 2021 and last year.

Meanwhile, Farage in a recent interview for Sky News, focused more on less specific groupings: Muslims, those who allegedly cannot speak English, and the Conservatives, who he claimed had not done enough to reduce migration legal or otherwise.

A graphic displayed during the interview,  showed the largest sources of immigrants during 2023, as well as EU figures, representing a dramatic change compared to 2019.

Particularly, 2023 saw a net decrease in the number of EU citizens living in the UK by 75,000. In the same year India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, and Ghana accounted for more than half a million immigrants.

Meanwhile, the Reform Party is polling in third place with 14% of the vote, five points behind the Conservatives and two points ahead of the Liberal Democrats.

However, vote share is no guarantee of parliamentary seats in the UK’s first-past-the-post system, especially for smaller parties.


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