A senior Tory MEP has been forced to apologise after comparing Socialists in the European Parliament to Nazis.
Syed Kamall, who leads the European Conservatives and Reformists Group to which Theresa May’s party belongs, backed down after his remarks caused outrage in the chamber and a rebuke from the parliament’s president Antonio Tajani.
Tajani was then embroiled in a row with Nigel Farage after accusing the Ukip MEP of being “nostalgic for dictatorships” and suggesting the EU should take the credit for ridding the continent of Nazism and Communism.
Farage branded his reading of history “laughable” and said his claim was “deeply insulting” to the US and UK troops who fought in two world wars.
The row kicked off as the parliament sat in Strasbourg, when Kamall took offence at a warning from Udo Bullmann, the German leader of the Socialists and Democrats Group, of the rise in extremist movements which he labelled “right-wing”.
Kamall retorted: “I would remind you, when you talk about right-wing extremists, we have to remember that the Nazis were National Socialists. It is a strain of socialism. Let’s not pretend.”
As MEPs responded with cries of “Rubbish” and “The first ones who were killed were Socialists, you idiot”, Kamall retorted: “It’s a left-wing ideology. They wanted the same things as you, let’s be clear. You don’t like the truth, do you?”
Bullman denounced his comments as a “political outrage” and demanded an apology, citing the German Social Democrats’ record of voting against Adolf Hitler’s regime and falling victim in their hundreds of thousands to its terror.
The Tory MEP’s comments were denounced by Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt as “an insult to all the Social Democrats who fought against Nazism and died in concentration camps”.
Kamall responded: “I get tired of people saying Nazism is a right-wing ideology. I believe in freedom of speech, but if I have offended you – and clearly I have – I apologise unreservedly.”
Seeking to calm the waters, Italian Tajani provoked snorts of laughter from Farage as he described Nazism and Soviet Communism as “two ghastly and terrible systems which caused terrible wounds for Europe”, adding: “Thank God these two dictatorships are vanished, thanks to the European Union.”
Telling Mr Farage that “laughter is the last refuge of the stupid”, Tajani added: “You seem to be someone who is nostalgic for dictatorship if you don’t respect other people. You have no right not to respect other people so please keep quiet.”
Farage said he would make no response to the “personally insulting” comments, but added: “We do seem to be struggling just a little bit with our history today.
“To claim that the European Union brought about the downfall of Nazism and Soviet Communism is not only laughable, it is very ungracious and deeply insulting to the United States of America, who made massive sacrifices so that Europe could be free twice in the 20th century, and – to a slightly lesser extent – the United Kingdom, as 30,000 British dead in Italy will attest.
“You can claim what you want for the European Union, but please don’t rewrite history.”
Tajani replied: “70 years of peace have existed in Europe since the two horrible dictatorships and that is due to the European Union, so perhaps you should be a bit more careful in your reading of history.”