Nigel Farage returns to Brussels with disruptive circus antics

National Conservatism conference triggers stand-off between organisers and police over efforts to shut down controversial event

Four years after leaving Brussels having played a major role in Britain’s exit from the European Union, Nigel Farage was back.

While he was seen as a troublemaking interloper in the European Parliament, where his old party Ukip is still the butt of the odd joke, he was among friends at the National Conservatism Conference in the Belgian capital.

The controversial right-wing conference had to move location twice in recent days, after venues cancelled following pressure over the hardline views of some scheduled speakers. When attendees were let in on Tuesday morning, the shutters to the venue’s front entrance were ominously pulled down after them. Several burly security men checked IDs as people made their way inside. A few hundred conservatives gathered in the hastily found new venue, the Claridge event hall, where the carpet was noticeably sticky underfoot.

Farage, whose speech had been listed to start at 11.15am, took to the stage to applause about an hour and a half later. The former Eurosceptic MEP rolled back the years, settling into a familiar riff against the “unelected” bureaucratic and elitist forces that he said ran the EU.


“I enjoyed my time in the European Parliament more than anybody else did,” he said. “Not that I miss the European Parliament, but I did enjoy upsetting them on very, very big days.”

A few minutes before the arch Brexiteer started to hit his stride, the Belgian police arrived outside, informing the organisers the conference would have to be shut down, due to public order concerns. The organisers and police negotiated in the middle of a scrum of cameras at the front door, as Farage continued on inside.

Speaking earlier, John O’Brien, one of the organisers of the event, who is originally from Drimnagh, Dublin, asked when it had become “a crime” to hold a political meeting. People who were opposing the event taking place were “afraid” of new ideas which threatened European elites, he said.

Former British home secretary Suella Braverman also spoke at the event. Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, was due to appear.

“They call us all kinds of names but in fact we are very loving people. The world would be a much better place if everyone was like us,” Robert Roos, a right-wing Dutch MEP said.

There was a big American contingent among the crowd. At the end of one panel talk, a string of young students in navy suits, white shirts and red ties passed by in succession.

Tom Vandendriessche, a Belgian MEP from the far-right Identity and Democracy group, used his time on the stage to rail against the EU elites whose environmental reforms were “climate madness”, asylum seekers who were “invading Europe” and “woke in doctrination”.

During a morning break two members of staff, manning a small station with pastries, were swamped handing out coffee and orange juice to attendees. Later the stream of people rushing back and forth in front of the coffee station included panicked organisers, journalists and three uniformed Belgian police officers. This was definitely not a normal day at work, one of the staff remarked to the other.

Rather than come in and physically shut the conference down, the police set up a cordon at the front door, stopping anyone else entering the venue, but allowing people to leave.

After giving a series of interviews to the media, where Farage said the efforts to shut down the event were a “monstrous” attack on free speech, he took his leave past the police. “I’m making a discreet exit,” he said on his way out.