Nigel Farage has secured up to €14m of EU taxpayers funding after the UK Independence party leader won enough allies in the European parliament to form a group.
In spite of facing a political assault from Conservatives MEPs, who targeted and turned three parties previously allied to Ukip, Mr Farage managed to rebuild his Europe of Freedom and Democracy group and gain rights to funding, speaking time and jobs.
The motley seven-strong Farage coalition includes Beppe Grillo, the maverick comedian turned political leader of Italy’s Five Star movement; a Latvian farmer’s party; the far-right Swedish Democrats; and Lithuanian nationalists led by a stunt pilot and former president.
The most surprising addition was Joelle Gergeeron Guerpillon, a little known French former National Front (FN) politician who quit the hard-right group two days after her election.
Mr Farage has refused to join forces with the FN on the grounds it is anti-Semitic. Ukip said Ms Guerpillon “had joined [the FN] with great hopes but realised that their philosophy was very different”.
In a statement, Mr Farage said he was “very proud” of a group that came together in the face of “much political opposition”. “Expect us to fight the good fight to take back control of our countries’ destinies,” he said.
Christopher Howarth, analyst at the Open Europe think-tank, estimates that the group will, potentially, be able to claim €5.61m a year. On that basis Ukip, which has 24 of the 48 seats, could receive €2.8m a year – or €14m during the Parliament – although in previous years it has not used all of the available funding streams.
“The European parliament spends over €83m per year funding its vision of pan-European democracy,” said Mr Howarth, adding that it was “funnelling money to an opaque network of obscure parties and foundations.”
“It is ironic that Ukip could potentially also benefit . . . despite being one of the greatest critics of the way the EU spends its money.”
William Dartmouth, a Ukip MEP, accused the Tories of having manoeuvred to try to prevent his party from forming a group.
“That shows that David Cameron just doesn’t get it,” he said. “They took in two political parties which we were in a group with last time . . . they have sought to reduce our voice in Parliament and the orders have come from the top, from inside Number 10.”
Defections to the Tory-led European Conservatives and Reformists group included the True Finns and the Danish People’s Party, two anti-immigration parties that include MEPs with past convictions for inciting ethnic tension. A Dutch Calvinist also recently switched sides.
Mr Farage was also squeezed by Marine Le Pen, the FN leader, who stole former Ukip ally the Italian Northern League in her attempt to establish a group in the parliament.
Ms Le Pen remains at least one short of the minimum seven member states required to form a group.
Mr Farage is not intending to impose discipline on a coalition that shows little coherence on economic policy. Critics will have less ammunition to accuse Mr Farage of allying with racists and homophobes, as some of his more contentious former allies have defected or lost their seats.
The Swedish Democrats are one of the more contentious members of the bloc. When founded in 1988, the SD were widely seen as a rightwing extremist group. Since then, however, they have remodelled themselves as a more mainstream nationalist, anti-immigration party.