Bernard Ginns: it would be economic suicide for Britain to shut up shop

I ONCE had lunch with Nigel Farage at a gentlemen’s club in St James’s Square, an upmarket area in central London.

This would have been nearly a decade ago when the UK Independence Party was just starting to emerge as a political force.

The paper I edited had broken the story that Tory donor Stuart Wheeler, the spread-betting tycoon, was considering switching his allegiance to Ukip.

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The story had major ramifications throughout Westminster and presaged the growing threat of the right-wing party, particularly to the Conservatives.

Mr Farage invited me to his club, I think it was the East India, for lunch. We met in the smoky wood-panelled bar and, at his lead, had a pint or two of bitter while puffing away on cigarettes. After the beer, we were shown through to the nearly empty dining room, with tall sash windows overlooking one of London’s most expensive squares.

Not long after we sat down, one of the few other diners, an elderly man with military bearing, approached our table and proceeded to tell Mr Farage how much he appreciated his plain-speaking politics and how the establishment needed a good challenge from someone who understood what the country was thinking, or somesuch.

Mr Farage promised me he hadn’t arranged for the intervention, which made me wonder if he had.

Three-course lunch followed, along with a bottle of red wine and then port, or brandy, or both, and then it was finished and we were outside in the bright daylight, me feeling rather queasy, but Mr Farage apparently impervious to the large intake of alcohol, marching down Pall Mall towards Trafalgar Square and picking up the numerous mobile phone messages from his staff and other journalists.

We met again another time, at a Shepherd Neame pub in rural east Kent. Despite the close proximity of Europe, the object of his ire, he was quieter this time, only consuming one pint and a cigarette outside; this being post the smoking ban.

I don’t recall ever being impressed by him. I just thought he was a politician who knew how to get along with journalists.

But in the intervening years, as you know, he has become a potent power in British public life, uniting seemingly disparate groups in Britain, ranging from landowning gentry to poor working households who both feel that mainstream politicians in Westminster have no care or understanding for them or their way of life.

I was recently asked if I thought Nigel was a genuine politician with heartfelt convictions or a master manipulator of the media.

What’s the difference, I replied, rather unfairly to some of the backbench MPs I know.

Yesterday I interviewed Lord Bilimoria, the Indian-born entrepreneur who made Britain his home and established a beer brand, Cobra, which is responsible for up to £160m worth of retail sales and sustaining many jobs, particularly in Burton-on-Trent, where joint venture partner Molson Coors operates a large brewing concern.

He maintains that Britain is one of the best countries in the world to do business, with its open economy, growing embrace of entrepreneurialism and status as the number two location on the planet for inward investment. We discussed Ukip and its right-wing immigration stance.

He said: “It is very damaging to us internally, creating a sense of fear about all immigration in an unbalanced way, discouraging the people of Britain from appreciating and celebrating the good immigration which has helped make Britain great and helped this tiny country of less than 1 per cent of the world’s population continually punch above its weight, sitting at the top table of the world in every sphere, including as one of the 10 largest economies in the world.”

In a closely-linked global marketplace, who can disagree? It would be economic suicide to shut up shop.