Fascists, felons and fanatical fools: ugly truth about Farage’s friends in Brussels
Published by The Mail on Sunday (2nd November, 2014)
Eleonora Bechis does not hold Nigel Farage in high regard. She calls him ‘a misogynist, homophobe and xenophobe,’ adding that he thinks ‘like a financial speculator’ who has adopted the ideas of the far-Right. ‘His only gift is that he is a great speaker, full of hot air.’
Harsh words. But what makes them so shocking is that this Italian MP and her Five Star party are allies of Ukip in the European Parliament.
They teamed up although Bechis believes that her party – an anti-capitalist creation of the Left founded by a radical comedian and fiercely committed to hardline green politics – is the ‘antithesis’ of Ukip.
Indeed, some of her colleagues have gone even further, saying they have nothing in common with the ‘disgusting’ British party that is rising in the polls. Yet in Brussels, far from the gaze of their voters in Britain and Italy, the two protest parties have become partners – something that senior Five Star MP Aris Prodani admits ‘gives me the shivers’.
At home, Ukip has its first MP, Douglas Carswell, and will get its second if Mark Reckless wins this month’s Rochester by-election. Their success comes by posing as brave outsiders who refuse to play the political game, and demonstrating antipathy towards Europe.
So why has Farage joined forces with these anarchic Italians, given their policies are so at odds with Ukip’s?
After all, prominent Five Star figures have promoted gay marriage and gay adoption, sought softer immigration laws, insisted Italy abandons fossil fuels and called for part-closure of a steel plant employing 14,000 people on environmental grounds.
The answer for this strange alliance is money – lots of money, from the Europe that Ukip profess to loathe – and power.
So keen is Farage to shore up his position in Brussels and pocket millions in funding that he has jumped into bed with parties far more sinister and unsavoury than the Italians.
Ukip and Five Star are allied with a Polish party led by an offensive bigot who argues women should not be allowed to vote, says disabled people should not be seen on TV and denies Hitler knew of the Holocaust.
They are joined by a militant member of the French far Right; a party founded by Swedish fascists who wore Nazi uniforms to meetings; and a Lithuanian ousted from the presidency over dodgy dealings with a Russian suspected of links to organised crime.
Farage leads this unappealing bunch of extremists and oddballs called Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) – a supposedly like-minded group of Eurosceptics.
These contemptible marriages of convenience show how Ukip behaves behind the scenes when given a sniff of power. In the unseemly bearpit of Brussels, where Ukip has the biggest British block in the European parliament following its stunning success in May’s elections, I found Farage’s forces behave as badly as any of the others.
I saw the sordid reality behind all their raucous rhetoric – with sleazy deals, a shameless pursuit of the European gravy train and shocking sabotage of British interests to increase public support for their party.
The EFDD alliance provides Ukip with an astonishing £7.7 million in subsidies over the course of the parliament – plus an all-important front-row seat in the chamber from where Farage can launch scathing attacks on the institution and its leaders.
‘It is crazy,’ one EFDD insider told me. ‘You have some Left-wing Italians alongside all these far-Right people, grouped together just to give Nigel Farage more money and visibility. Now they are becoming even more extreme with this latest lot.’
He was referring to the Polish Congress of the New Right, a member of which has joined the alliance to prevent the EFDD’s collapse after the sudden defection of Iveta Grigule, a member of the Latvian Farmers’ Union. Her decision presented Ukip with a potential cash crisis just seven months before a critical British General Election, since European parliamentary groups must have a minimum of 25 MEPs from at least seven nations.
Grigule quit after landing the plum post of leading a foreign delegation, prompting angry accusations from Farage that his group was being undermined by opponents. In the unseemly world of Brussels politics there is endless jostling over expenses and jollies.
The Latvian denied charges of dirty dealing. ‘I do not find it acceptable to work in a group which has achieved a state of complete isolation,’ she said.
The EFDD responded by recruiting Robert Iwaszkiewicz – a man who has ‘joked’ about beating women – from the Polish group which even the far-Right French National Front (FN) said was too toxic to join in alliance.
Farage admits its leader, a flamboyant 72-year-old called Janusz Korwin-Mikke, is ‘utterly reprehensible’. There are few people he has not offended. Women are a frequent target, since he argues they are ‘dumber than men’ and should not be allowed to vote; he has even queried rape as women are ‘always pretending that they are showing some resistance’.
He also criticised the London Paralympics, demanding only ‘healthy, strong, beautiful, fair and wise’ people be seen on TV. ‘You might as well organise a chess tournament for morons,’ he added unpleasantly.
The bow-tie wearing blogger opposes democracy, wants the European Commission turned into a brothel, seeks privatisation of all schools and hospitals, says Poland’s Jews are all communists and talks about a ‘Holocaust industry’.
Yet Farage, who once spurned an alliance with the FN because of their ‘anti-semitism and general prejudice’, has jumped into bed with these extremists, admitting he only did so because there was nobody else available.
‘I needed to form a compromise, which I did not with a party but with one MEP from a Polish party which… is not quite the kind of party that espouses views that Ukip has,’ he told listeners to his LBC radio show.
The move, instantly condemned by Jewish leaders, has thrown the spotlight on Ukip as it attempts to move from being a fringe force of mavericks and zealots to becoming a respectable political entity.
Yet as Farage enjoys the fine food and wine in restaurants such as Il Pasticcio near the European Parliament, he has been making other allies as dubious as the prejudiced Poles.
Take the Sweden Democrats, launched in 1988 as a white supremacist party. Its founders included an ex-member of the Waffen SS and a skinhead called Ulf Ranshede. Members wore Nazi uniforms to meetings, and the leader of its youth wing was arrested with a hand grenade at a Left-wing rally.
In recent years the party has sought to present a more moderate image, with a ban on Nazi uniforms while focusing more on immigration, crime and ‘the Islamisation of Europe’.
Yet one whistleblower said most members were racist, while three MPs caused a scandal after being caught on video abusing an Iraqi-born comedian. A senior member was forced to resign after saying she hoped teenage asylum seekers starve to death.
Another of Ukip’s Brussels allies is Joëlle Bergeron, 65, a stalwart of the FN since its formation four decades ago by rabble-rousing racists and anti-semites who saw decolonisation as the primary source of France’s problems.
She was elected under FN colours in May. Two days later she quit, saying the far-Right group had ‘lost its values’ in a row over giving immigrants the vote. She joined Farage’s group as an independent.
Political observers believe Bergeron is flirting with the ultra-right Parti de la France, a group of traditional Catholics that calls for the assertion of French culture to ‘meet the challenge of rampant Islamisation’ and whose leader has claimed the ‘white world’ is under threat.
Farage’s bizarre alliance also includes the former Lithuanian president, who holds the dubious honour of being first modern European leader to be removed from power by impeachment amid concerns over his ties to organised crime.
A decade ago Rolandas Paksas, a former Soviet stunt pilot, was forced to stand down after 14 months in office when his country’s parliament alleged he had violated his oath and the nation’s constitution with controversial links to a Russian-born businessman called Yuri Borisov.
He was found to have illegally arranged citizenship for Borisov, a major party donor, but was cleared of leaking state secrets to Russia.
Three years ago the European Court of Human Rights overturned a lifetime ban on Paksas running for parliament in Lithuania, saying the punishment was disproportionate. Companies run by Borisov have been at the centre of a US criminal inquiry into illegal payments for military maintenance contracts.
The final member of the EFDD comes from the Party of Free Citizens, libertarian Czechs who are comparatively uncontroversial –although their support for decriminalising drugs might clash with the views of many Ukip voters.
When he formed this group in June, Farage said he was proud of the way they came together in the face of strong opposition. ‘Expect us to fight the good fight to take back control of our countries,’ he said.
Beppe Grillo, the Five Star leader, defended his new ally from attacks by his shocked party members. ‘He wants to control flows of immigration in Europe like us,’ he said after they met at an Indian restaurant. ‘It is not true he is a racist.’
The Conservatives have also faced flak for some of their European allies, which include anti-immigration and Right-wing parties with members holding convictions for inciting ethnic tensions and a reputation for homophobia.
But Ukip’s controversial alliance is just the later fuss to engulf its MEPs. Almost since Farage became one of the first Ukip members elected to Brussels in 1999, the party has faced accusations of milking the lavish pay and perks on offer to Eurocrats while failing to vote or stand up for British interests.
One former MEP, Tom Wise, openly boasted of ‘repatriating’ EU money to Britain – but was jailed later for two years after diverting expenses into secret bank accounts to pay for fine wines.
In the previous parliament, Farage faced internal opposition over links with groups such as the Italian Northern League, whose members have displayed racism and anti- gay bigotry.
‘I would not sit next to these people on a bus, let alone in parliament, and things have got worse since I left,’ said Mike Nattrass, a former MEP who quit the party last year. ‘Who in their right mind would want to sit alongside a party whose leader thinks Adolf Hitler was not responsible for killing the Jews?
‘It is nothing to do with policy or principle – a lot of these people do not even want to leave the European Union. It is all about keeping Nigel Farage in a position of power.’
Since the May elections, the 24 Ukip MEPs have vowed to vote more often and display more discipline. They are marshalled by Aurelie Laloux, Ukip’s French chief of staff. She and her husband, a policy adviser to the Christian Democrats EU group, earn close to £200,000 a year.
Yet I discovered that groups representing British businesses have been left dismayed by Ukip’s refusal to support national interests, such is their desire to erode support for the EU.
To give one example, nine lobbyists representing farmers and retailers met in July with Stuart Agnew, the party’s agricultural spokesman, to urge his support for an amendment to stop new red tape on food production. This measure would disproportionately hit British farmers.
Yet although Agnew is a farmer who takes European subsidies, he refused to support them and said it was not in his interests to improve the EU.
‘I was absolutely horrified,’ said Sarah Hathway, one of those present. ‘It is his job is to represent the British public but he was quite open about not representing British people who had voted for him. I found this terrifying as a British citizen, especially when they are our biggest group of MPs.’
Agnew admitted to me that Ukip refused to propose legislation. ‘We do not go to Brussels to make the European Union work better. We are the opposition.’
He insisted they represented British interests, before confessing Ukip had an internal saying that ‘bad equals good’. ‘If legislation is coming out that people will not like, that’s good for Ukip,’ he explained. ‘We feel it will push people towards voting for us.’
A Ukip spokesman denied this was official policy. But he accepted their alliances were largely marriages of convenience; indeed, he was not even aware of the background of all their partners. ‘There have always been very slimline points of agreement, such as against further deepening of the EU,’ he said.
Uncharacteristically, Mr Carswell refused to talk about his new party’s activities in Brussels. ‘I have nothing to say on this. You need to talk to the MEPs,’ he said three times, before putting the phone down sharply.
Given the nature of his new friends in Europe, perhaps this was unsurprising. It is, after all, hard to defend Ukip’s behaviour when it demonstrates all that is worst about Brussels.
Yet how hypocritical. For it is precisely this sort of shameless snouts-in-the-trough politics, seedy backroom dealing and scandalous failure to protect British interests that the party claims to be campaigning against when standing before the voters of Britain.