Nigel Farage ended up in knots today as he suggested there was no problem with his wife’s first language being German because she did not speak it on British trains.
During a bruising interview on LBC radio that was eventually interrupted by his spin doctor, the Ukip leader was repeatedly challenged over recent comments that he felt “uncomfortable” hearing so many foreign languages spoken on trains in London.
Asked whether he was uncomfortable when his wife Kirsten and their daughters spoke German, Mr Farage replied: “No, because they can speak English.”
Pressed again on the issue, he said: “I don’t suppose she speaks it on the train.”
In tetchy exchanges with presenter James O’Brien, Mr Farage complained that the media was using inappropriate remarks by a “handful” of activists to portray his party as racist. In the latest incident, one is alleged to have posted a message on Facebook suggesting that “poofters” might reconsider their sexual orientation if one was shot. Ukip said it was looking into the matter.
“All anyone wants to talk about is the idiots in Ukip,” Mr Farage said. “Wherever we have found people who have had extreme, racist, unpleasant views we have unceremoniously got rid of them...
“To hold out the views of handful of people as being representative of Ukip frankly is not the truth.”
He defended Ukip’s membership of a group including right-wingers in the European Parliament, saying the party had to make “compromises”.
Political discourse in countries such as Italy, Poland and Slovakia was “incredibly different to what we would consider to be acceptable in this country”.
“What I have done in the European parliament is to try and draw a line, and to say we will not sit with people who we believe to be on the extremes. We will sit with people we believe to have a reasonable balanced point of view,” Mr Farage said.
“Let’s be honest, we have a problem in this group with one or two members.
“We could leave it... but equally the Conservative Party had the bloke who celebrated the invasion of the Baltic states.
“We are not a party that wants to be linked to the far right. But I promise you, if you look at the associations everybody has to form in the European Parliament a degree of compromise is needed.”
In one of the toughest passages, Mr Farage faced a grilling on his comments from February that parts of Britain were “like a foreign land” where “you don’t hear English spoken any more”.
At the time, he described being on a rush-hour train leaving Charing Cross, saying “it was not until we got past Grove Park that I could hear English being audibly spoken in the carriage”.
Asked today whether he felt similarly uncomfortable when his wife and daughters spoke German, Mr Farage pointed out that they could also speak English.
But he then admitted that he did not know whether the people on the train spoke English as well.
“Maybe they could, but I got the feeling that it certainly was not their language of choice,” the MEP said.
“If you look at the primary school situation in the East End of London where you have now got schools where the majority doesn’t speak English, doesn’t that say to us that what we want is a sensible balanced immigration policy where we want people with skills to come into Britain, (but) we also want integration in society.”
Mr O’Brien pointed out that those figures recorded how many children had a first language that was not English – and not how many were unable to speak English.
“Your own children would fit into that category,” he added.
Mr Farage replied: “Hopefully lots of people can speak different languages...
“They come from homes where English is most definitely not the first language, and in too many cases is not the language at all.”
The presenter insisted: “But no one’s counted how many people are in the second category?”
“No, no, and it would be a very helpful and useful thing if they did, and perhaps we would be even more surprised and shocked if they did.”
Mr Farage said he was making a “simple point” about the dangers of having an “open door” immigration policy with the EU, and denied there was anything racist about his position.
“What is racism?” he said. “Is race about colour? Is race about race or is it about nationality? I made a comment there that wasn’t intended to say any more than that I felt uncomfortable about the rate and pace of change...”
Mr O’Brien cut in: “You felt uncomfortable about people speaking foreign languages, despite the fact that presumably your own wife does when she phones home to Germany.”
“I don’t suppose she speaks it on the train,” an exasperated Mr Farage responded.
Mr O’Brien: “Why not, is she not allowed to?”
“Of course people are allowed to,” the MEP conceded.
Mr Farage was then pressed on his suggestion that he would feel uncomfortable if Romanians moved in next door.
“If you lived in London I think you would be,” he said.
Mr O’Brien asked: “What about if a group of German children did? What’s the difference?
“You know what the difference is,” Mr Farage said.
“We want an immigration policy that can control not just quantity, but quality as well.”
As the live interview moved on to examine Mr Farage’s expenses, Ukip communications director Patrick O’Flynn stepped in to complain that it was running over time.
“Sorry, we had an agreement about timing... you’ve massively... ” Mr Flynn began.
But Mr Farage told him to “hang on” and finished his answer.