The Ukip-backed campaign to pull Britain out of the EU has recruited EU migrants to staff its call centre despite telling voters such low-skilled workers “deprive British citizens of jobs”.
Leave.EU employs four phone bank staff from EU countries including Slovakia. Their job is to rally voters across the UK to back Brexit. The appointments come despite Leave.EU claiming that “as the world’s fifth biggest economy, the UK is well placed to supply its own labour”.
Arron Banks, the campaign’s major donor who oversees the call centre operation from his Bristol offices, has told the Guardian: “I don’t feel any affinity towards French, Germans and Spaniards. I’d much rather deal with my own kith and kin.”
The remain campaign accused Leave.EU of “double standards beyond parody”.
Arron Banks in his Leave.EU call centre in Bristol. Photograph: Gareth Phillips for the Guardian
“For Arron Banks to run a campaign based on division and demonisation while employing EU citizens in his call centre, is the height of hypocrisy,” said Neil Kinnock, former Labour leader and leading backer of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign. “Banks should hang his head in shame – and reflect on the fact that his own employees and other hardworking people do not deserve the stream of negativity directed at them by leave campaigners.”
Among the EU workers is Rudolph Svat, 36, from Košice in eastern Slovakia. He arrived in September and the leave campaign is his first job in the UK after working at a call centre in Prague. His role emerged inadvertently when the Guardian was granted a tour of the campaign’s war rooms earlier this month.
Banks, who had not known Svat was from Slovakia, joked with him: “We’ll have you after 23 June [referendum day], don’t worry.”
A British exit from the EU would probably mean employers would lose their automatic right to hire low-skilled EU workers from outside the UK. Banks denied there was any contradiction in an anti-EU campaign hiring a Slovakian call centre worker.
“My beef is not with immigration but with controlling immigration,” he said. “It can’t be unlimited. I would argue you bring in the people you need to fulfil the economy.”
He said it would be wrong to discriminate against job applicants who were “legally in the country at the moment”.
Earlier this month, the Office for Budget Responsibility said a high level of net migration – over 100,000 a year – is needed to achieve a budget surplus by the end of this parliament. Higher net migration of 265,000, still lower than the current rate of 320,000, would fuel growth by £4.5bn, the OBR said.