Far-right group's first seat in European Parliament

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A former leader of the National Front with a 40-year history in far-right politics was last night elected the British National Party's first ever MEP.

Andrew Brons, a 61-year-old former politics lecturer, become one of six MEPs elected from the Yorkshire and Humber region with 10 per cent of the vote – an increase of 2 per cent on 2004. The BNP's showing was particularly strong in South Yorkshire, where it took thousands of votes off Labour. In Barnsley the BNP more than doubled its share of the vote from 8 per cent five years ago to 17 per cent.

Speaking after his victory, Mr Brons, who will receive thousands of pounds of European Union funding for the BNP, said: "I don't need to tell you that my election is not universally popular ... But despite the lies, despite the misrepresentation we have managed to win through. I regard this as the first step towards the people of the UK getting freedom from European dictatorship."

Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, said the result was a "sad moment for British politics".

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, added: "On D-Day, Britain sent an army to Europe to stop the Nazis getting to Britain. It is an absolute insult to the memories of those who fought that 65 years later Britain is now sending Nazis to Europe to represent us."

The BNP were also close to winning a seat in the North West where its party leader Nick Griffin was standing. Mr Griffin had to be smuggled into the count at Manchester Town Hall in a police van after it was surrounded by protesters.

Speaking after Mr Bron's election he said: "It is a huge breakthrough. We fought this election amid a most horrendous media campaign. We are not a racist party. We do say this country is full up. The key thing is to shut the door."

In his manifesto Mr Brons said he would fight to end the EU.