UK & World News
Farage Predicts UKIP 'Earthquake' In EU Vote
The UK Independence Party could win next year's European elections and "cause an earthquake", according to leader Nigel Farage.
Mr Farage, speaking at the party's conference in London, said UKIP is on course to have more members than the Lib Dems within 18 months.
He told activists that Britain is "moving UKIP's way" on issues like benefits, education and Europe and put a tough line on immigration at the heart of his pitch to voters.
Mr Farage warned that failure by the Tories to block an influx of Bulgarians and Romanians into the UK when restrictions lift in January will lead to a ballot box hammering.
And he branded David Cameron's pledge to hold an in-out referendum on EU membership by 2017 a "cynical" move sparked by fears of voters switching to UKIP.
"I'm taking nothing for granted but I think we're going to do well in the European elections. My ambition, my conviction is that we can come first and cause an earthquake," he said.
In a direct appeal to disaffected Tories, he said the 2014 European elections was a chance to "really express their view without worrying which lot get into Downing Street".
The leader declared immigration the "biggest single issue facing this country" and argue that only quitting the EU would end further strain on schools, hospitals, housing and wages.
He predicted hundreds of thousands of immigrants could arrive from Romania and Bulgaria next year, attracted by the right to benefits worth far more at home.
He also warned of an "even darker side to the opening of the door" - pointing to what he said was already a "Romanian crime wave" in London.
"The [European election] campaign will be dominated by open door immigration to Eastern Europe," he said.
"If the coalition wants to save their electoral skins they must, before January 1, tell Brussels that we will not unconditionally open our door to Bulgaria and Romania.
"That is my challenge to them. If they ignore it then we must turn the Euro elections into the referendum that we have not been given.
"Let's make May 22 as our referendum on EU membership, let us send an earthquake through Westminster. Let us stand up and say: 'Give us our country back'."
Mr Farage admitted the media spotlight has exposed unpalatable views of some "eclectic" UKIP members and say he had a "blistering row" with outspoken MEP Godfrey Bloom.
But he insisted the party is "a free-thinking, egalitarian party opposed to racism, sectarianism and extremism" of all kinds.
"We have some people with overactive Facebook accounts. And we have some who make public pronouncements that I would not always choose myself," he said.
Mr Bloom recently sparked a furore by attacking Britain sending aid to "Bongo Bongo Land" and was also forced to deny suggesting no "self-respecting businessman" would hire a woman of child-bearing age.
Ex-Tory donor Mr Wheeler also denied being sexist after arguing women were not as good as men at bridge, poker and chess.
"I had the most blistering row with Godfrey Bloom in a Strasbourg restaurant the other day. He wants to fight for his beliefs and I was saying that we need to stick to the big messages," Mr Farage said.
"I don't always agree on policy with Stuart Wheeler either."