LONDON (AP) — Britain’s main Euroskeptic party took out a full-page newspaper ad on Monday to declare that it is not racist, after its leader said Britons should be concerned if Romanians moved in next door.
U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage used the advertisement in the Daily Telegraph to insist “UKIP is not a racist party,” and to say that “the vast majority of Romanians who have come to the U.K. wish to better their lives and would make good neighbors.”
But he claimed “organized criminal gangs” from Romania were responsible for a large amount of crime in Britain.
UKIP wants Britain to leave the European Union. Citizens of the 28-nation bloc can live and work in other EU countries, and UKIP says this has left Britain with little control over its borders.
The party is polling strongly ahead of this week’s European Parliament elections, but Farage has been rattled by scrutiny of his comments about Romanians, who gained the right to work without restrictions across the EU at the start of this year.
During a radio interview Friday, Farage restated his belief that Londoners would feel uncomfortable about Romanians moving in next door. Pressed about the difference between Romanians as neighbors and Germans, Farage — whose wife is German — said: “You know what the difference is.”
On Sunday Farage said he had not spoken as clearly as he would have liked during the interview.
“I regret the fact that I was completely tired out and I didn’t use the form of words in response that I would have liked to have used,” he told the BBC.
Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday that Farage had said “some really pretty unpleasant things.”
UKIP, which has no seats in the British Parliament, has seen its popularity and profile surge as Britons grow disaffected with the main political parties after several years of austerity.
But it has dumped several election candidates for offensive or racist comments, including one who said black comedian Lenny Henry should move to a “black country” and another who called Islam “evil.”