June 4, 2014 8:45 pm

MEPs with criminal records join Tories’ eurosceptic group

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Two anti-immigration politicians with criminal convictions for inciting ethnic tension were admitted on Wednesday night to David Cameron’s eurosceptic alliance in the European parliament.

The situation is the result of an unexpected move that defied the reservations of some in Downing Street in which Tory MEPs overwhelmingly voted to join forces with the Danish People’s party and True Finns. The two parties are former allies of Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence party.

The decision helps take the European Conservatives and Reformists group [ECR], established by Mr Cameron in 2009, to 55 seats, making it the fourth biggest group. A planned vote on also admitting the anti-euro Alternative für Deutschland was postponed after Mr Cameron warned that this would sour relations with Berlin.

While the rise in numbers will give the Tory-led group more funding and influence in the parliament, the decision carries political risks. A third of the six Finnish and Danish MEPs now in the ECR have criminal records.

Morten Messerschmidt, a senior DPP figure and a rising star in Danish politics, was convicted in 2002 for publishing material that appeared to link a multiethnic society to rape, violence and forced marriages.

Jussi Halla-aho, a newly elected True Finn MEP, was convicted in 2012 of stirring ethnic tensions after writing a blog on freedom of speech that claimed Islam “reveres paedophilia”.

Mats Persson of the Open Europe think-tank said: “This will raise the eyebrows of many in Europe who thought the Danish People’s party in particular wouldn’t pass the Tory party’s blush test.”

“The good news for the Tories is that they’re on course to become the third largest party in the European Parliament,” he added. “The risk however is that they drive reform-minded liberal parties straight into the arms of the big federalist block in the EP.”

The DPP rocked the Danish political establishment by emerging as the biggest party in the European elections, with four seats. Both the Danes and the True Finns see the move to the ECR as bringing the credibility and respectability that could help them become coalition partners in future governments.

The Danes were rejected as possible allies when the ECR formed in 2009. Their defection from Mr Farage’s Europe for Freedom and Democracy group leaves that group struggling to find MEPs from seven member states – the minimum required under parliament rules.

Some Tory MEPs said they were reassured over accepting the two parties by Syed Kamall, the Tory leader in the European parliament, who is a practising Muslim.

“The Danish People’s party is on a political journey. It now has a policy of controlled immigration and disagrees with those on the left who would allow uncontrolled immigration and benefit tourism,” said Mr Kamall.

“There is a clear distinction that the left-wing media often fails to make between a party that wants to control immigration and one that seeks to demonise immigrants. The DPP is the former.”

Daniel Hannan, one of the most prominent Tory MEPs, recently defended Mr Messerschmidt on Danish television. “Would you want to be judged on something you did in your 20s?” he said, adding: “if the Danish electorate move on and decide he is a mainstream popular politician, it seems a bit unfair that the rest of us shouldn’t make that same judgement.”

Mr Cameron’s pledge to leave the centre-right European People’s party, the parliament’s biggest group, delighted eurosceptics during his leadership campaign but damaged relations with Angela Merkel of Germany.

Lobbyists and diplomats say the decision reduced British influence in the parliament at a critical time, reducing its say over legislation and initiatives such as the party’s lead candidates to be European Commission president.

Tory MEPs deny this and hope to become the parliament’s third-biggest group, winning important committee chairs, millions in funding and more speaking time.

The ECR also accepted applications from the Independent Greeks, two Slovak parties and the German Family party. The enlarged group has overtaken the Greens but remains a few seats shorts of the Liberal bloc. All the blocs in the parliament are looking for allies.

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