- Exclusive: Conservative MEPs in new controversy as picture obtained by Business Insider shows them meeting with a leader of the Swedish far-right.
- The European Parliament’s European Conservatives and Reformists group, which includes UK Conservative MEPs, held a meeting on Tuesday.
- Mattias Karlsson, who leads the far-right Sweden Democrats in the Riksdag, was invited to attend.
- The Sweden Democrats are a growing political force with staunch nationalist policies on immigration and refugees. The party’s roots are in neo-nazi movements of the late 20th century.
- Various members have been booted out for alleged racism, sexism and homophobia.
- The Labour party has called on Theresa May to “quickly condemn” her Tory MEPs.
LONDON – Theresa May has been urged to condemn the “utterly shameful” decision of her party’s members of the European Parliament to meet with a controversial leader of the Swedish far-right.
In a picture obtained by Business Insider, Conservative MEP for London, Syed Kamall, who chairs the parliament’s European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, is shown on a panel alongside Mattias Karlsson, the leader of the Sweden Democrats far-right political party in the Swedish Riksdag.
The Sweden Democrats are a hugely controversial party which has its roots in neo-nazi movements of the 20th century. It joined the ECR group alongside the UK Conservative Party in July last year.
Karlsson is a Swedish MP and the Sweden Democrats leader in the Scandinavian country’s parliament, the Ricksdag, having been its overall leader from 2014 to 2015. In 2017 he penned an article titled Trump Is Right: Sweden’s Embrace of Refugees Isn’t Working, which argued that Muslim immigrants were chiefly to blame for a rise in crime in Sweden.
“Mr. Trump did not exaggerate Sweden’s current problems. If anything, he understated them,” he said.
The ECR – which the UK Conservative party joined in 2009 and Kamall chairs – called a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the group’s agenda. One of the subjects discussed was how to “win the upcoming [European] elections,” sources in Brussels told BI.
The Conservative party’s opponents condemned them for meeting with Karlsson.
Labour MEP Seb Dance MEP said: “This shows how far the Tories have moved to the right. There was a time when they would have balked at being associated with a far-right party. Now they openly align with them.”
Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat in the European Parliament, told BI: “This is the state of the Conservative Party in 2019. They don’t even care any more.”
She added: “It is shameful to see British Conservative MEPs reduced to actively supporting and campaigning alongside the far-right. [David] Cameron’s decision to take the Conservatives out of the mainstream of European politics has been a disaster for British influence in Europe.”
Labour MP Rupa Huq told BI that the prime minister must condemn Conservative MEPs for associating with Karlsson.
“It is utterly shameful that Tory MEPs are bedfellows with racists and extremists,” Labour MP Rupa Huq told BI.
“Theresa May should quickly condemn Syed Kamall for hosting and sharing a platform with the far-right Swedish Democrats.”
A spokesperson for Conservative MEPs said the meeting was “routine” and added: “The ECR is the third largest political group in the European Parliament and comprises delegations from 18 EU member states. These delegations frequently invite their national politicians to attend Group meetings if they are visiting Brussels.”
The UK Conservative party has not yet responded to BI’s request for comment.
Tory MEPs under the spotlight again
Kamall was previously forced to apologise in October after likening the views of socialist politicians in the European Parliament to those of Nazis.
“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.
“They want the same things as you,” Kamall told MEPs in Brussels.
The Conservative party was heavily criticised a few weeks before this incident after a majority of their MEPs voted to reject proceedings against the authoritarian far-right government of Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban.
Conservative MEPs opposed a motion to censure Orban, whose regime is accused of curtailing the rights of journalists, undermining Hungary’s judiciary, and running an anti-Semitic campaign against businessman George Soros. The Tories were the only governing party in western Europe to back Orban, The Independent revealed.
Who are the Sweden Democrats?
The Sweden Democrats are one of the numerous far-right parties in Europe which have grown quickly over recent years amid increasing public concern over immigration and a rise in nationalist sentiment.
Formed in 1988, the party is now the third biggest in the Riksdag, after winning nearly 18% of the vote at the last general election in 2018.
However, despite its increasing popularity, politicians both in Sweden and Brussels refuse to work with the Sweden Democrats, which has made coalition-building in the Swedish parliament difficult in recent years.
The party has well-documented roots in neo-nazi movements and was considered white nationalist in the early nineties, before later denouncing fascism and insisting it was no home for racism or other forms of discrimination.
But despite the party’s attempts to modernise itself, it has a number of contentious policies which lead commentators to regard them as being on the furthest-right fringes of mainstream European politics.
The party focuses heavily on immigration, particularly multiculturalism and recent arrivals of refugees to Sweden.
Its most recent manifesto it declared “we want to stop receiving asylum seekers in Sweden and instead go for real aid for refugees” and added “we want to enable more immigrants to return to their native countries.”
The Sweden Democrats also link immigration to rising crime and problems faced by Swedish public services.
The party has had to kick out and discipline various members for alleged racism, sexism and homophobia since it burst onto the Swedish electoral scene in 2015.
For example, in October 2016 a video was leaked of the party’s then economic spokesperson Oscar Sjöstedt joking about Nazi sympathies and Jews being compared to sheep. In the same month, a leaked email sent by the party’s second vice chair Carina Herrstedt showed her making racist remarks about black and Romani people.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.