'Why are you still here?' asks EU's Juncker amid barrage of Nigel Farage

MEPs boo Ukip leader in Brussels chamber after he accused them of never having done a ‘proper job’ in their lives

The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has clashed bitterly with Nigel Farage, pointedly asking the Ukip leader in front of the European parliament in Brussels: “Why are you still here?”

In extraordinary scenes, Juncker said on Tuesday that he respected British democracy and last Thursday’s seismic vote for the UK to leave the European Union. There was a smattering of applause in the chamber.

The former Luxembourg prime minister then broke off from his speech in French and addressed Farage, sitting to his immediate right, in English. “That’s the last time you are applauding here. And to some extent I’m really surprised that you are here,” Juncker said.

“You were fighting for the exit. The British people voted in favour of the exit; why are you here?” he asked.

Earlier the two men had embraced each other, and swapped a few words, ahead of the parliamentary session in the Belgian capital and a summit attended by David Cameron and other European leaders. Juncker even air-kissed Farage near the cheek.

But the proceedings quickly degenerated into noisy near-farce. In his own speech Farage began by sardonically thanking his fellow MEPs for “the warm welcome”, before putting the boot in.

“When I came here 17 years ago and said I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain to leave the European Union you all laughed at me. Well, I have to say, you’re not laughing now are you?” he taunted.

“And the reason you’re so upset, the reason you’re so angry, has been perfectly clear from all the angry exchanges this morning. You, as a political project, are in denial. You are in denial that your currency is failing,” Farage said.

Despite urging a “grown-up” conversation between the EU and Britain, Farage continued in a similarly mocking vein throughout his monologue, at one point telling MEPs: “Virtually none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives.”

The MEPs responded to his oration with a mixture of boos, groans, shouts and ironic applause.

Amid uproar, the parliament’s president, Martin Schulz, tried to restore order while himself taking a dig at Farage. He told MEPs: “I understand that you are emotional, but you’re acting like Ukip normally acts in the chamber. So please don’t imitate them.”

His efforts did little to calm the atmosphere as Farage went on to tell MEPs that any attempt to impose trade barriers on the UK would backfire, claiming German car-assembly workers as being among those who would suffer. He said Britain could be “your greatest friend” provided the EU did not thwart the UK’s global ambition.

The UK should invoke article 50 of the Lisbon treaty soon to begin its withdrawal from the EU, Farage said. “I don’t think we should spend too long doing it.”

Farage enjoyed support from the far-right French politician and Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, who spoke next. She called last Thursday’s referendum vote the “people’s spring” and “the most important historic event on the continent since the fall of the Berlin Wall”.

‘Why are you here?’: Juncker to Farage in EU parliament

In almost poetic tones, Le Pen exclaimed: “Dear colleagues, why are you getting het up? Look how beautiful history is! The UK is leaving!” She said Brexit was “a sign of liberty and freedom”, “a cry of love” even, and signified “the great emancipation” of the British people.

Nigel Farage and Jean-Claude Juncker.
Nigel Farage and Jean-Claude Juncker. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty

"You're presenting yourself as the defender of the little man - why do you have an offshore financial construction?" https://t.co/Jgs6M7I6XE

— Sky News (@SkyNews) June 28, 2016

Others, however, dished it back to Farage in terms of bitter sarcasm.

The former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt said: “I am shocked, Mr Farage. You are presenting yourself as the defender of the little man, while you have an offshore financial construction.”

As Farage laughed, Verhofstadt added: “OK, let’s be positive, we are getting rid of the biggest waste of EU budget: your salary.”

The German MEP Manfred Weber, a close ally of Angela Merkel, accused Farage of lying over his promise that the NHS would receive £350m a week in the wake of Brexit. “Shame on you,” he said, to loud applause.

Ukip’s only Westminster MP, Douglas Carswell, was similarly unimpressed by Farage’s performance. He told LBC radio that “resorting to that sort of language is possibly not in the national interest. It struck precisely the wrong tone.”

When the Farage kerfuffle was over, the session moved on.

The warmest applause – indeed, a standing ovation – came for an emotional Scottish MEP, Alyn Smith. “We will need cool heads and warm hearts,” he urged his fellow parliamentarians. “But please, remember this: Scotland did not let you down. I beg you, do not let Scotland down now.”


Luke Harding and Haroon Siddique

The GuardianTramp

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