BNP struggling to make friends in Brussels
The British National Party's first two Euro-MPs are finding it increasingly hard to win friends and influence people in Europe.
BNP leader Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons both won seats in the euro-elections - and so far they have chalked up three notable rebuffs.
First, they were unable to muster enough allies to form an official political grouping in the European Parliament, which begins work next week. Second, they were asked to leave one of the main drinking haunts of European Parliament staff and MEPs in Brussels. And now they find they are not on the Government's guest list for a formal drinks party for British MEPs in Strasbourg next week.
The pair are still trying to form workable political alliances with other right-wing MEPs, but they seem unlikely to muster the necessary minimum of 25 MEPs from at least seven member states which would trigger substantial funding for staff, as well as improve prospects of influential committee seats and speaking time in the European Parliament chamber.
After one recent visit to the European Parliament's Brussels headquarters searching for political bedfellows, Mr Griffin, MEP for the North West region, repaired to nearby O'Farrell's bar, where he sat at a table outside to be served. Soon afterwards he was asked to leave. According to another drinker on the premises at the time: "He was sitting quietly outside, and then he was recognised and he was told he wasn't welcome."
The same bar is one of the regular watering holes of UK Independence Party leader (Ukip) and MEP Nigel Farage, who is trying to put as much political distance between his party and the BNP as possible.
The third and latest snub for the democratically-elected BNP duo has come from the Government, which has left Mr Griffin and Mr Brons off the invitation list for a cocktail reception in Strasbourg next Wednesday.
A Government spokesman explained the decision was part of established policy towards elected extremists, even though they are accorded the same basic government facilities as other elected individuals.
"The same general principles governing official impartiality apply in the European Parliament as they do for Westminster groups and MPs. UK Government officials will provide all MEPs with standard written briefings as appropriate from time to time, for example on the MEPs' Statute, with no differentiation. British and other MEPs can also be provided with factual written briefing on specific policy issues upon request, again with no differentiation."
The spokesman went on: "However, the long-standing policy of the Government is that officials will not engage in any other contact with elected representatives of any nationality who represent extremist or racist views, unless specific permission has been granted to do so on a particular occasion from the FCO Permanent Under-Secretary and the Minister for Europe. On the basis of this policy, MEPs representing the BNP are not invited to the reception on Wednesday. UKIP MEPs have been invited."
Andrew Brons (Yorkshire and Humber) was not far off when he predicted after the election that his victory would not be "universally popular".
UK diplomats shun BNP officials in Europe
The government is to single out Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons, the British National party's two newly elected representatives in the European parliament, for special treatment, denying them some of the access and information afforded to all the other 70 UK MEPs.
Under new guidelines drafted in Whitehall and in the Foreign Office following the June elections to the European parliament, the two BNP leaders will be kept at arm's length from the kind of routine contacts and socialising that take place between British civil servants and MEPs in Brussels and Strasbourg.
When the new parliament convenes next week in Strasbourg, Glenys Kinnock, the new Europe minister, is to host a reception for all British MEPs. Only Griffin and Brons have not been invited.
"Officials will not engage in any other contact with elected representatives of any nationality who represent extremist or racist views, unless specific permission has been granted to do so on a particular occasion from the FCO permanent under-secretary and the minister for Europe," a government spokesperson said.
The official said that the BNP duo would be subject to the "same general principles governing official impartiality" and they would receive "standard written briefings as appropriate from time to time".
But British diplomats made plain that they would not be "proactive" in dealing with the BNP MEPs and that any requests for policy briefings from Griffin or Brons would be treated differently and on a discretionary basis. A Brussels-based civil servant said it was acceptable for him to meet MEPs across the party spectrum for a drink, but that any such meetings with Griffin or Brons would be frowned upon.
The MEPs of the anti-EU UK Independence Party have been invited to next week's government reception. Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, said he was satisfied that he was treated equally by the 155 diplomats and civil servants working at the British mission to the EU, known as Ukrep, in Brussels.
"During the British [EU] presidency in 2005, I remember Jack Straw telling me that we'll be treated the same as all the others," said Farage. "If we ring Ukrep, we would expect to be treated fairly by them. If we contact them, they help us even though they're almost certainly closer to the other parties. We've not found them to withhold stuff from us if we ask."
Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat MEP, said that the BNP represented a special case and that the government was entitled to differentiate in its dealings with elected representatives.
"A line has been crossed [with the BNP]. It's a difference of degree. It's not surprising that the government has to draw up guidelines to deal with a different situation."
Following the European elections, the civil service and government officials considered a range of options for dealing with the BNP, from an inclusive non-discriminatory approach to total quarantine, effectively ostracising them. David Miliband, the foreign secretary, is said to have signed off a decision that would bar the BNP people from government and embassy events in Brussels, while providing the extremists with some policy information.
"I don't think the policy of isolating them, of a cordon sanitaire, will work at all," Farage said. "It's a mistake. They're elected representatives, whether we like it or not."
The isolation has been compounded by Griffin's failure over the past week to cobble together an alliance of extremists in the parliament in order to qualify for official caucus status and thus benefit from better funding, speaking time, and committee positions. To qualify, a parliamentary fraction needs to muster 25 MEPs from at least seven EU countries. Griffin's signature failure was not persuading Italy's anti-immigration party, Liga Nord, to join him. Instead the Italians linked up with Farage's Ukip.