Nigel Farage is “narrow minded, insular, bigoted, xenophobic”. His “breaking point ” poster makes decent people shudder. Britain is the sort of liberal, tolerant place that offers illegal immigrants an amnesty, not stigma.
No, that’s not the Remain campaign talking. Those are statements from Michael Gove and Boris Johnson of Vote Leave in recent days.
We’re in the final stage of the referendum and the two senior politicians in VL are deliberately talking up the divisions in the Leave side, quite intentionally picking a fight with Mr Farage. Why?
Well, don’t discount the obvious: they’re just saying what they believe. However they’ve fought this campaign, Mr Gove and Mr Johnson are both intellectually and culturally inclined to a liberal stance on immigration – rather more so, in fact then David Cameron: neither has ever been a great advocate of the PM’s “tens of thousands” target; Mr Johnson is a self-described supporter of immigration in many forms.
But of course there’s politics here too. The obvious agenda is to prevent Remain painting the Leave campaign as all about Mr Farage, to say to wavering voters: you can vote Leave without looking nasty and small-minded.
Following the death of Jo Cox, the attempted toxification of the Leave brand has become Remain camp’s main attack on Brexiteers. The message boils down to “only bad people vote Leave”.
It may work, but it’s storing up trouble for after the vote: regardless of who wins, an awful lot of people are still going to vote Leave, and feel insulted by their Prime Minister for having done so. There will be a price to pay for that, I suspect.
And it’s in the post-referendum situation that the Gove-Johnson attack on Farage and Faragism may matter most.