by Stephen Tall on January 4, 2014
Nigel Farage MEP
Leader of the UK Independence Party
Reason: for calling on the UK to admit refugees from Syria – before U-turning and saying this applied only to Christian refugees
Truth be told, Hero of the Week is pushing it. More like 24 hours. Here is Poujadist Nige on 29th December:
“I think that this country should honour the spirit of the 1951 declaration on refugee status that was agreed. There is a responsibility on all of us in the free West to try and help some of those people fleeing Syria, literally in fear of their lives.”
He was quite right. As Daniel Knowles in The Economist pointed out, it’s not that the UK is turning down all those refugee requests from Syrians that it’s receiving: 625 out of 988 applications were granted in 2012. But this is an wholly inadequate response to the situation – up to four million Syrians are expected to have fled their country by the end of next year, with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan absorbing the vast bulk of these.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has issued a request for 30,000 resettlement visas for the most vulnerable refugees. So far Germany has taken 18,000 with an offer of a further 5,000. France has offered 500 places. Even Spain’s paltry offer of 30 places bests the UK’s response: zero.
Mr Farage didn’t say how many Syrians he’d extend the hand of friendship to; nor was it clear if he did it solely out of genuine concern for their welfare, or as a way of wrong-footing David Cameron’s hard-line Conservatives who have chosen to look the other way. But at least a hand of friendship was offered.
His decency earned the Ukip leader generous appreciation from two right-leaning newspapers, the Daily Telegraph (‘Ukip, a party that some Tories have bashed for being anti-foreigner, now looks more compassionate than Mr Cameron’s self-described “compassionate Conservatives”’) and The Times (‘on the fundamental issue of whether some of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees have a reasonable case for seeking asylum in Britain, he is right’).
But those bouquets were nothing to the brickbats hurled by Faragistas at their leader. If you want to read the hive mind of the Ukippers, trawl the Facebook comments responding to his call for compassion: ” Plenty of room for refugees in Bulgaria and Romania” was a pretty standard rejoiner.
And so, 24 hours later, Mr Farage clarified his offer: apparently the offer of a hand of friendship to those Syrians fleeing persecution applied only to Christians. Sorry, Muslims and others, if you didn’t read the small print.
And so, in one swift, reverse ferret, Nigel U-turned, switching from Hero to Villain, from Good to Bad Samaritan. For a man supposedly so concerned with this being a Christian country, he seems remarkably at ease with the UK walking by on the other side.
* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.