A British lawmaker has compared the U.K’s exit from the European Union to the emancipation of slaves in the first speech from a Brexit Party representative at the new European parliament. The Brexit Party, led by Nigel Farage, won 29 seats in the 2019 election.
In a fiery speech at the E.U. headquarters in Strasbourg Thursday, veteran British politician and former Conservative Member of Parliament Ann Widdecombe railed against recent decision making processes conducted by the E.U. The previous day, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen and the International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director Christine Lagarde were nominated by E.U. leaders for the Union’s two top jobs.
Widdecombe said that the negotiations were not democratic, and were one of many reasons that Britain was right to be leaving the Union on Brexit’s recently-updated date of October 31, 2019. “If that’s this place’s idea of democracy that’s a serious betrayal of every country represented here,” she said.
“There is a pattern consistent throughout history of oppressed people turning on their oppressors, slaves against their owners, the peasantry against the feudal barons, colonies against empires, and that is why Britain is leaving,” Widdecombe added, standing next to Farage. “It doesn’t matter which language you use, we are leaving and we are pleased to be going. Nous allons, wir gehen, we are off!”
One fellow Brexit MEP tweeted saying that Widdecombe’s speech prompted “tears in my eyes” and that the veteran politician represented the “ignored majority.” However, other MEPs were reportedly emotional for rather different reasons. “Some British MEPs were in tears listening to Ann Widdecombe’s rant in the European Parliament today. It is one of the most shameful episodes I have witnessed in my five years there,” Green MEP Molly Scott Cato said in a statement provided to TIME. “Anybody who values our place in the world will hang their head in shame after witnessing this humiliating incident.”
It’s not the first time Widdecombe has courted controversy. Earlier this month, the 71-year-old suggested that science could “produce an answer” to being gay, leading to cancelations of several scheduled public appearances. During her time as U.K. prisons minister in the 1990s, she defended a policy that forced pregnant women prisoners to be chained up to prevent escapes and in 2009, she condemned a proposed E.U. energy policy by denying the existence of climate change.
The speech came amid an eventful first week for newly-elected European parliamentarians. Earlier in the week, 29 Brexit party MEPs faced criticism for turning their backs during a rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the E.U.’s anthem, in the Strasbourg chamber. Another recently-elected MEP, Green Party representative Magid Magid, said that he was asked to leave the European parliament building at his first day on the job. Magid, who is British-Somali, said the encounter showed “a lot about what people think the stereotypical politician is meant to look like.”
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