UKIP’s new leader has abandoned the party’s pledge to cap immigration – describing such figures as “entirely unrealistic”.
In his first speech since being elected, Henry Bolton said he preferred a “practical and operational” approach to managing migration as targets “paint politicians like me into a corner”.
At the UKIP conference in Torquay, the former Army officer said current rates of immigration were “unacceptable” – and he claimed British culture was being “buried” by Islam and “swamped” by multiculturalism.
Mr Bolton argued that immigration is overwhelming public services, which have already been put under strain because of funding cuts.
Calling for an Australian-style, points-based system for managing migration, he added: “Housing and communities are being overwhelmed, it is harming our own culture, traditions and way of life.
“We must demand that our own concerns about our own British culture are heard and that feeds into our policy on immigration.”
In its 2015 manifesto, UKIP had promised to enforce a temporary block on low-skilled and unskilled migration – and cap the number of high-skilled immigrants at 50,000 per year.
During the last General Election, the party committed to zero net migration.
On Brexit, Mr Bolton criticised Labour and the Conservatives for proposing a transition period – and he said the UK must be prepared to leave the European Union immediately.
He claimed Theresa May’s major speech on Brexit, held in Florence, showed “the UK does not want to leave the EU in anything but name”.
Mr Bolton, who used to work for the European Union in “common defence and security policy” roles, said the Prime Minister’s promise of a security partnership with the EU does little to suggest that the UK is preparing to leave.
He added: “I can only conclude that the Conservative Government either has no intention of taking us out of the EU, or that they are simply too incompetent to care.
“Surely, whichever the case, the Conservatives are unfit to govern and cannot be entrusted with Brexit.”
Mr Bolton told the conference that UKIP has a “moral obligation” to ensure that the wishes of 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit are fulfilled, adding: “The fightback starts here, starts now, starts today.”
UKIP’s vote share in June’s General Election plummeted to 1.8%, compared with 12.6% in 2015.
In a pitch to former UKIP voters who decided to back Theresa May, he suggested the Prime Minister had betrayed them on Brexit.
“She claimed that she offered ‘strong and stable’ leadership,” Mr Bolton said.
“The country and many of our supporters trusted her and the Conservatives won the election.
“So, 14 months after the referendum, have we regained control of our borders? Are we able to conclude our own trade agreements? We are not, no.”