A right-wing Dutch politician banned from entering the UK over his anti-Islam views landed in Britain today.
Geert Wilders was invited to Westminster to show his 17-minute film Fitna, which criticises the Koran as a "fascist book", by a member of the House of Lords. But on Tuesday he received a letter from the Home Office refusing him entry because his opinions "would threaten community security and therefore public security" in the UK.
Mr Wilders, a member of Holland's Freedom Party, condemned the British Government as "weak and cowardly" and vowed he would make the trip anyway. He left Amsterdam on a BMI flight at lunchtime, a party spokesman said.
The aircraft touched down at London's Heathrow Airport at about 2pm.
BMI refused to confirm that Mr Wilders had booked a flight with the airline, citing data protection laws. A spokesman said only: "We are obliged to observe Government-enforced travel restrictions. If they are imposed, we are duty-bound to abide by them."
It is understood that the controversial politician's passport will be flagged up at Heathrow immigration and he will be refused entry to Britain at that point.
Mr Wilders has urged the Dutch government to ban the Koran and warned of a "tsunami" of Islam swamping the Netherlands. His film sparked violent protests around the Muslim world last year for linking verses in the religious text with footage of terrorist attacks. He has launched an appeal against an Amsterdam court's order that he should be prosecuted for hate speech.
Mr Wilders said he had already shown his film to Denmark's parliament and would take it to Italy and the US House of Representatives in the coming weeks. He told the BBC: "I was very surprised and very saddened that the freedom of speech that I believe was a very strong point in UK society is being harassed today."
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said the government of the Netherlands would press for a reversal of the travel ban.
UK Independence Party peer Lord Pearson, who invited Mr Wilders to Britain, said the screening of the film would go ahead today "with or without Mr Wilders". In a joint statement he and cross-bench peer Baroness Cox said they were "promoting freedom of speech" and accused the Government of "appeasing" militant Islam.
They added: "Geert Wilders' Fitna film, available on the web, is not a threat to anyone. It merely suggests how the Koran has been used by militant Islamists to promote and justify their violence. They react in fury and menace to our intention to show the film and have boasted that their threats of aggressive demonstrations prevented its previous showing in the Mother of Parliaments.
"This was not the case - the event was postponed to clarify issues of freedom of speech. The threat of intimidation in fact increases the justification for the film to be shown and discussed in Parliament and by the British and international press."
The Home Office said: "The Government opposes extremism in all its forms. It will stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country, and that was the driving force behind tighter rules on exclusions for unacceptable behaviour that the Home Secretary announced in October last year."
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "Freedom of speech is our most precious freedom of all, because all the other freedoms depend on it. But there is a line to be drawn even with freedom of speech, and that is where it is likely to incite violence or hatred against someone or some group. Where there is risk of harm to others, there has to be some limit.
"Having watched Geert Wilders' movie Fitna, with its raw and emotional appeals to anti-Islamic feeling and its shocking images of violence, there is no doubt in my mind that he has overstepped the line that should be defended in a civilised society and that the Home Secretary's ruling is right."
A spokesman for the Conservative Party said it did not wish to comment.
The National Secular Society's president said he wrote to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith arguing that she had made a mistake in denying an application by a "democratically-elected politician from a sovereign state who wants to come and express an opinion".
Terry Sanderson said: "It may be a controversial opinion but he is entitled to express it. We think that the wrong people are being targeted here because the reason they have given for refusing him entry is that it may result in some kind of public disturbance. We think that is not a good enough reason. It's very disturbing that they are prepared to do this just on the basis that somebody might object."
Mr Sanderson said that, while the organisation did not agree with a lot of what Mr Wilders said, the right way to deal with it was to "argue with him, debate and discuss - not silence him".
A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain said: "Geert Wilders has been an open and relentless preacher of hate - there is little difference between his views and those of the far right. We have no problem with the challenge of criticisms to our faith, but the film that will be screened by Lord Pearson and Baroness Cox is nothing less than a cheap and tacky attempt to whip up hysteria against Muslims.
"Mr Wilders' xenophobic views have been identified as repugnant by a Dutch court, and is now confirmed by his official exclusion from the United Kingdom. It is now time to ask why Peers of the Realm who promote such demagogues without any censure are allowed to be regarded as mainstream, responsible leaders in our community."
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of Muslim youth organisation the Ramadhan Foundation, supported the Government's stance. He said: "His hatred of Islam is based on fiction and his presence in the UK may lead to community tensions. We in the UK value freedom and also our communities have worked so hard to build understanding and respect for each other. Mr Wilders and his fascist views are not welcomed to our country where we pride ourselves as a multi-faith society. This is not about freedom of speech but about stopping the incitement to religious hatred this man promotes."
After leaving the aircraft, Mr Wilders was taken into a side room to be interviewed, witnesses said.
The Dutch ambassador to Britain, Pim Waldeck, was at Heathrow to offer assistance.
Among those waiting for Mr Wilders in arrivals at the airport was Gerard Batten, UK Independence Party MEP for London. He said: "I thought it would be a nice touch to turn up and welcome him here if he gets through."