Two Brexit-supporting MEPs were told they should “go home” in a furious exchange in the European Parliament today.
Romanian MEP Doru-Claudian Frunzulica made the comment to Janice Atkinson and Steven Woolfe in frustration with their speeches during a debate in Strasbourg.
The row began when Atkinson was stopped mid-speech by the Parliament’s chair, who said she was speaking too quickly for the interpreters providing simultaneous translation into 23 other languages.
Atkinson responded by saying she didn’t want to communicate with other MEPs in the chamber, but with British politicians and voters watching at home.
“I wasn’t sent here to speak to any of you, I was sent here to defend the British people,” said the former UKIP MEP, who now sits in the same group as the French National Front.
Amid a barrage of heckles, she added: “Most of you understand English, English is the language of the world.”
After being asked to sit down, Atkinson then walked out of the chamber.
Her speech was followed by another on Brexit from Steven Woolfe, a former UKIP MEP who now sits as an independent.
Afterwards, Frunzulica intervened to complain that the Atkinson and Woolfe were “speaking only to the UK.”
“Why are you here within the European Parliament?” asked the socialist MEP. “You should have to go home to speak because here you speak to Europeans.
“You speak to all the European Union countries and people. Why don’t you go home? Probably it might be time.”
Hitting back, Woolfe said: “I will be going home at the end of March 2019 thanks to the 17.4 million people who decided Brexit was a brighter future for Britain outside of the European Union.”
Marek Jurek, a Polish MEP from the same group as British Conservatives, called on the Parliament’s chair to sanction Frunzulica for his comments.
He said: “Mr Frunzulica questioned the legitimacy of members who were voted for by those who wanted to leave the European Union.
“We cannot do that if we want to be serious about democracy in the European Parliament.”
Parliament vice-president Mairead McGuinness , who was chairing the debate, said she had nothing to add to the “frank exchange” as Woolfe had already had a chance to reply.
During the same debate, McGuinness also delivered a damning verdict on Theresa May’s proposal for the Irish border backstop.
The MEP from Ireland’s ruling Fine Gael party called the Prime Minister’s plan for a temporary customs arrangement “insufficient and incomplete.”
But the DUP’s Diane Dodds accused the EU of showing “disrespect for the integrity of the UK” by pursuing a backstop which would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market and customs union if no other way of avoiding a hard border can be found.
She said that would be tantamount to the “annexation” of Northern Ireland.
European Commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans said it was in the interests of both sides to make real progress on the issue in the three weeks that remain before the next European Council summit.