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Brexit Party MEPs turn backs on EU anthem

Brexit Party MEPs have turned their backs on the EU anthem as they took their seats in the new European Parliament.

Nigel Farage's party staged their demonstration as Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" was played in the Strasbourg chamber on Tuesday morning.

The former UKIP leader posted on Twitter that his new grouping had "already made its presence felt".

UKIP MEPs, under the leadership of Mr Farage, had taken the same action at the start of the last European Parliament session in 2014.

Image: Nigel Farage's party have 29 MEPs

Prior to a musical quartet performing the anthem, the European Parliament's outgoing president Antonio Tajani had urged MEPs to show "respect" by standing for the piece.

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He said: "Rising to your feet is a question of respect – it doesn't mean that you necessarily share the views of the EU.

"If you listen to the anthem of another country you rise to your feet."

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Explaining his MEPs' actions, Mr Farage later told Sky News: "They played the anthem and we didn't stand up as the others did – all ramrod straight to attention.

"We sat and the president of the parliament, Mr Tajani, said it is polite to stand up when the anthem of another nation is playing.

"He called this place a nation. So we obeyed his instructions and we did stand up, but we faced the other way."

Lib Dem MEPs stage an anti-Brexit demonstration in the European Parliament
Image: Lib Dem MEPs staged an anti-Brexit demonstration

Denying that the Brexit Party's "very silent act of defiance" was disrespectful, Mr Farage added: "What is disrespectful is to take the ancient nation states of Europe and without asking anyone's permission turn it into a country, because that's what the president of the parliament called it this morning.

"That's really disgraceful and I am not going to stand to attention for this anthem – no way.

"I'll show respect for any anthem of any other country in the world, but not a false creation like this and I think we did the right thing."

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As well as the Brexit Party's action, Conservative MEP Geoffrey Van Orden remained seated for the anthem.

"For years the EU has said that it doesn't have the ambition to be a state and it is states that have anthems," he told Sky News.

He added: "I don't recognise a state called Europe, I want to see a Europe of independent nation states."

Mr Van Orden said he did not want to behave "insultingly" but claimed "playing this so-called anthem is a deliberate political act and something I don't recognise".

 Silvio Berlusconi
Image: Former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi poses for a 'selfie' with a fellow MEP

Richard Corbett, leader of Labour's MEPs, told Sky News: "The gimmick of turning your back to the chair at the opening session – I think Nigel Farage and the Brexit co MEPs thought they were being clever but everyone met it with a bit of contempt really.

"It is simply being rude to our colleagues from other countries."

Highlighting how, like the EU, both the Olympic Games and the United Nations also have anthems, Mr Corbett added: "Standing for an anthem is a question of politeness really."

At May's European Parliament elections, the Brexit Party topped the polls in the UK to have 29 MEPs elected.

The Liberal Democrats came second, with their newly-elected 16 MEPs wearing "B******s to Brexit" T-shirts at the opening session of the new parliament.

Sir Ed Davey MP, who is currently standing for the Lib Dem leadership, hailed his "brilliant" colleagues for making clear their "mission" to stop Brexit.

Mr Farage accused the Lib Dems of "student union behaviour", while Mr Van Orden claimed they had behaved "insultingly" and "vulgarly".

He said: "Our job here is to actually to try and influence people and win people over and persuade people from other countries of the need for a good deal with the UK so we can get Brexit done."

A Member of the European Parliament holds a portrait of former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont during the first plenary session of the newly elected European Parliament in Strasbourg
Image: An MEP holds a portrait of Catalan separatist Carles Puigdemont, who is blocked from taking his seat

Later in Tuesday's first session of the European Parliament since the election of 751 MEPs in May, Mr Tajani admonished Brexit Party MEP Alexandra Phillips for waving a Union Flag when she was chosen as a teller for the ballot to elect his successor.

Mr Tajani told her: "You've been asked to act as a teller madam, not to help with football supporting."

The UK's MEPs will sit in the European Parliament until Brexit is finalised, with 31 October the current deadline for the UK to leave the EU.

Tuesday's session was also marked by a protest against the decision to deny a seat to Catalan separatist Carles Puigdemont.

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