Monday

17th Jun 2019

British Tory challenger for EU parliament presidency backed by far right

  • Deva (c) meeting with an Indonesian interfaith delegation in the EU Parliament (Photo: KBRI Brussel)

The UK Conservative challenger to the stitched-up election for the presidency of the European Parliament has won the support of a clutch of far-right MEPs, including the British National Party’s Nick Griffin and the Front National’s Bruno Gollnisch.

The Tory deputy, Nirj Deva, however denies having sought the backing of the likes of Bulgaria’s Roma-baiting Ataka; Austria’s Freedom Party, whose leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, has in the past been tied to neo-Nazi groups; the Flemish nationalist Vlaams Belaang or Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League.

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A nomination paper leaked to Hope Not Hate, a UK anti-fascist watchdog group, and seen by EUobserver shows the signatures of Griffin, Gollnisch and five other MEPs from the far-right of the chamber, one immediately after the other, suggesting the document was passed directly between these MEPs, all of which maintain close ties with each other.

The anti-federalist European Conservatives and Reformist grouping in the parliament, which backs Deva’s bid for the presidency, was quick to distance the candidate from his nationalist supporters.

“He has been nominated by the ECR and nobody else,” the group’s spokesman, James Holtum, told EUobserver.

Deva himself was unavailable for comment.

“This piece of paper comes as a bit of a surprise to us. Neither he nor anyone from the campaigning team has sought the support of people like Mr. Griffin.”

Deva himself is a Briton of Sri Lankan extraction and is a vice-president of the development committee in the parliament.

He is also the only fourth Asian MEP ever elected - making him an unusual character for the far-right to support. Last month, Deva won 'MEP of the year' in the area of development, an award voted on by his fellow MEPs.

“People know him as a friendly face in the parliament, someone that can get along with everybody,” Holtum continued, saying that the MEP has been “surprised by the level of support he’s received.”

“It would also be good to show the world how multicultural the parliament is.”

The development comes just as the popularity of the UK Tories in the parliament - which already last year split from the main centre-right political grouping, the European People’s Party - is at its lowest ebb after British leader David Cameron wielded his country’s veto to prevent moves toward a new EU treaty last week.

Holtum would not say how many MEPs have so far backed his candidacy.

But the ECR says it is realistic about his chances and that he does not expect to be able to overcome the agreement reached two years ago between the two main groups in the house, the EPP and the Socialists and Democrats.

“He’s running to ensure that there is a real election rather than a coronation for Martin Schultz [the presumptive next leader of the parliament],” Holtum said.

“To give a chance to MEPs to vote for a leader next January rather than having the decision made for them two years ago.”

Deva joins UK Liberal Democrat and veteran MEP Diane Wallis, the third announced candidate.

Wallis however is standing as an independent, as her group, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats of Europe, has an agreement with the EPP and S&D not to stand a candidate.

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