The United Kingdom Independence Party, also referred to as the UK Independence Party or UKIP, is one of several nationalist parties across Europe which have taken controversial stances against the issue of immigration. Though not a new party and certainly not a new issue, the topic of immigration has recently been back in the spotlight right on time for the EU parliament elections.
In the 2013 UK local elections for the European Parliament, UKIP had a better showing than the Liberal Democrats, coming in third place with 23 percent of the vote and picking up a total of 13 out of the United Kingdom’s 72 total seats. As new EU parliament elections take place in the third full week of this month, it is anybody’s guess if UKIP will fare better or worse.
The United Kingdom Independence Party traces its roots back to 1993, when it was founded in opposition to the creation of the euro currency as well as the basic structure of the European Union, as drafted and enacted in the Maastricht Treaty which came into effect that same year.
After an uninspiring showing in the the 1997 national election and amidst changing leadership, UKIP received a boost of empowerment with an infusion of supporters from a challenging party whose leader had passed away due to health complications. By the time of the 1999 EU parliament elections UKIP gained three seats, however the party was still unable to win any seats in the 2001 national parliamentary elections.
UKIP continued to gradually grow in popularity in the 2000s, and by early 2013 opinion polls ranked it as the third-most popular party in the UK. This rise to prominence over two decades has been sold to the voters on several main issues.
The party aims to come across as standing for conservative, traditional, and libertarian issues. Fiscally, UKIP takes a pro-business stance, favoring a lower rate of corporate taxes as one example in policies that are generally geared towards lowering taxes.
Decentralization in healthcare is another key feature of UKIP stances, which advocates county control over healthcare spending and a greatly diminished role of, and funding for the Department of Health. And of course, founded in opposition to the Maastricht Treaty, one of the pillars of UKIP is withdrawal from the EU.
Perhaps what the UK Independence Party is most outspoken for is its stance on immigration. Indeed, it often seems its driving motivation to advocate exiting the EU is to avoid its internal open immigration policy. Much of the publicity the party generates is through xenophobic comments about immigrants. However in order for UKIP to become more mainstream it is realizing it must soften its stance, and currently makes the demands that all foreigners entering the UK should provide proof of private health insurance, and immigrants should not have access to public schools for the first five years they are in the UK.
With UKIP’s growing appeal to voters, it is no wonder that David Cameron as the leader of the Conservative Party has been sounding a tougher note when it comes to the issues of immigration and the benefits of newly arrived immigrants. UKIP has also been putting pressure on Mr. Cameron when it comes to policy stances that could affect the UK’s relationship with the European Union.
As the European parliamentary elections draw nearer this May 22-25, it is anyone’s guess how the UK Independence Party will fare. Currently analysts are predicting it will make at least as strong a showing as it did during the last EU parliament elections in 2013 when it won 18 percent of the UK’s seats.