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Turbulent day in European parliament as Brexit Party MEPs turn backs on EU anthem

Irish MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace wore t-shirts with an image of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

BREXIT PARTY MEPS turned their back when asked to stand for the European anthem during a ceremony to mark the opening of the European parliament this morning. 

As Beethoven’s Ode to Joy began playing, party leader Nigel Farage, a veteran of the EU chamber since 1999, led the charge as his MEPs turned to face the back wall. 

Farage also warned of a “turquoise takeover” in the UK if the ruling Conservatives failed to deliver a divorce.

The 751-seat parliament – based in Strasbourg, France – is more fragmented than ever after a vote in May that saw solid gains by the liberals and Greens as well as the far right and eurosceptics in the 751-seat chamber.

With that in mind, the Brexit Party move was just one of numerous turbulent scenes this morning. 

Opposite Farage were the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, who also performed well in the EU elections.

They arrived in Strasbourg with bright yellow t-shirts emblazoned with “Bollocks to Brexit” and “Stop Brexit”.

France EU Parliament British Liberal Democrat Martin Horwood wearing a yellow Stop Brexit t-shirt in the European Parliament today Source: Jean-Francois Badias via PA Images

In theory, the new parliament should have only 705 seats if Brexit were taken into account. When Brexit happens, 27 of the British seats are to be redistributed to other countries and another 46 set aside for future EU enlargements.

Meanwhile, Irish MEPs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace turned up to Parliament this morning wearing blue and pink t-shirts with an image of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the text “Free Assange, no US extradition” printed on them. 

Daly also had a poster reading: “Since 2015, over 10,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean.”

“Thousands die trying Spain is blocking elected #Catalan MEPs from taking their seats. Julian #Assange, a publisher, is in prison facing espionage charges. We’re here on the first day of the new @europarl to expose European “democracy”,” Daly tweeted.

Catalan protest

Today’s opening session was also marked by a protest by Catalan separatists outside the parliament in support of three of their own who are blocked by Madrid from taking office. 

The crisis in Spain drew at least 10,000 demonstrators who waved the Catalan flag in front of the European Parliament.

Manifestation of the Catalan population in front of the European Parliament A demonstration by the Catalan population against elected MEPs who could not take office took place this morning Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Those refused seats include Carles Puigdemont, the former head of the Catalan regional government who lives in Belgium to escape a Spanish arrest warrant after leading an attempted secession in 2017.

The others are his running mate Toni Comin, and the pro-independence activist Oriol Junqueras, who is in pre-trial detention in Spain. 

Their seats will remain empty in a situation that “depends on the Spanish authorities, not the European Parliament”, a parliament spokeswoman told AFP.

Today’s session

The main task of this first session will be to elect a new parliament president – or speaker – one of the European top jobs.

The choice of the successor to Italy’s Antonio Tajani had been due to take place today, but was postponed until tomorrow to allow time for the 28 EU leaders meeting in Brussels to agree on a full slate of European posts.

Despite eurosceptic gains, the pro-European bloc will keep a comfortable majority, with more than two thirds of the votes after adding up those of the conservative EPP (182 MEPs), Social Democrats (154), Renew Europe centrists (108) and Greens (75).

As ever, the biggest establishment party force will be the CDU/CSU, the alliance between the formation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Bavarian sister party, which will also have 29 deputies between them.

This delegation forms the backbone of the European People’s Party, the parliament’s biggest political family, whose internal divisions have so far blocked progress on filling top EU posts.

The EPP and the Social Democrats group can no longer agree on major decisions alone and the centrists and Greens are determined to use this new opportunity to advance their political priorities. 

But centrists allied to French President Emmanuel Macron also want to play a pivotal role, and deliver on the French leader’s ambitions to shake up the EU. 

Includes reporting by © – AFP 2019

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