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Europe

Ukip's Farage in video address to new French Europhobe party

media Nigel Farage MEP REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

British Eurosceptic Nigel Farage was to address by video link the first national congress of the Patriots, a new French party that has split from the far-right National Front (FN) and is calling for "Frexit", on Sunday.

The former head of Britain's Ukip was guaranteed a warm welcome at the Patriots congress in Arras, northern France.

Farage was a key campaigner in 2016's victorious Brexit campaign and Florian Philippot's Patriots want France to leave the European Union to "allow the people to regain their liberty and France her sovereignty", according to the first article of the party's constitution puts it.

But his audience was not that big.

Some 500 people attended the congress and the party only claims to have 6,500 members.

And in two recent by-elections its candidates won fewer than two percent of the votes.

Split from National Front

Philippot formed the party after leaving the FN last September.

Having been the chief architect of FN leader Marine Le Pen's attempts to rebrand the party, he was demoted amid recriminations over its performance in the second round of last year's presidential election.

In the wake of that disappointment, the FN has toned down its anti-Europe rhetoric, which many members believed lost it votes.

Philippot is sticking to his Europhobe guns and also stands by his defence of the French welfare state, while pushing the same line as his former party on immigration.

His problem is that there are already several right-wing nationalist parties in France, two of them led by former presidential candidates - Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who backed Le Pen in the presidential deciding round, and François Asselineau, whose campaign was centred on the Frexit slogan.

The Patriots, who have limited resources and only one MP, are staking all on the forthcoming European elections.

Philippot insists they can win the five percent that will keep his seat in the European parliament, along with those of his best-known allies, Sophie Montel and Mireille d'Ornano, and allow them to claim payment of their election expenses.

Ukip's Coburn speaks

David Coburn, an MEP who is the leader of Ukip in Scotland, spoke at the congress, attacking Brussels bureaucracy.

Le Pen having failed to form an alliance with Ukip in the European parliament, the Patriots are part of the same group as the British party.

Philippot, who was declared party leader in an uncontested election on Sunday, laid into the FN, accusing it of renouncing all ambition to govern but acknowledging that his party had a problem attracting the public's attention.

"You know what our biggest challenge is," he told the troops. "That the French people notice us, know us and become interested in us for what we are, the standard-bearers of a patriotism that comes from the depths of the ages, whose role is to guide them in the present and the future."

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