Leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage was booed and heckled in a raucous special session of the European Parliament today as he accused the EU of imposing a superstate on its citizens and predicted other countries would leave the bloc like Britain.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker asked him:
“Why are you here?”
When Farage interrupted Juncker’s speech to applaud the results of last week’s British vote to leave the EU, the Commission chief shot back:
“That is the last time you are applauding here.”
The exchanges underscored just how fraught ties between European officials and British politicians have become since last Thursday’s vote, which left far-right anti-European parties across the bloc cheering and governments fretting about political and economic aftershocks.
They came hours before Prime Minister David Cameron meets EU leaders for the first time since the referendum. The other 27 leaders are meeting today without him to plot their next moves.
The parliamentary session began on a friendly note, with Juncker air-kissing Farage, acknowledging sadness at the outcome of the referendum and paying tribute to Jonathan Hill, the British financial services commissioner who resigned on Saturday after campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU.
Hill, a popular figure with EU colleagues, appeared overwhelmed. But the air of somber civility did not last long, as leading lawmakers accused the “Leave” camp of having lied their way to victory.
Former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt accused British politicians of creating a “toxic climate” of uncertainty since the Brexit vote and described former London Mayor Boris Johnson, a Brexit advocate and leading candidate to replace Cameron, as a “selfish man” who had put his political ambitions above the interests of his country.
German Manfred Weber, an ally of Chacellor Angela Merkel and leader of the biggest group in parliament, told Farage:
“If you had an ounce of decency today, you would apologize to the British people. Shame on you.”
Many speakers appealed for unity and pressed Britain to speed its withdrawal from the EU to end uncertainty that has roiled financial markets.
But Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front, hailed the Brexit vote as the most momentous event in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Earlier, Farage appeared to backtrack on claims an exit would allow London to redirect 350 million pounds (US$467 million) a week sent to Brussels to the National Health Service.
Farage estimated the savings at 34 million pounds a day, significantly less.
“If you had said this before the vote I could have congratulated you,” Juncker said. “But you lied. You didn’t tell the truth.”