It had to happen sooner or later. The Tory MEP Daniel Hannan has forged a political career out of taking pot-shots at the Brussels "Eurocracy", and has revelled in the role of "the enemy within" since he was elected in 1999.
A novice Eurosceptic from the same Daily Telegraph stable that gave the world Boris Johnson, Mr Hannan's style of guerrilla warfare in the European Parliament has aimed at maximum provocation – and very often succeeded. But when you manage to offend your own party, it probably means you have gone too far.
The 36-year-old was reprimanded by the Tories yesterday and ordered to apologise for comparing the German president of the European Parliament to the Nazis. What started out as a bit of a giggle for the Telegraph leader writer, who represents South East England at the Strasbourg assembly, has turned into a massive, stomach-churning embarrassment. He faces expulsion from the centre-right European People's Party group of MEPs for suggesting that new powers given to the Parliament's president, Hans-Gert Pöttering, reminded him of the Nazis' Enabling Act of 1933, which allowed Adolf Hitler to rule Germany without parliamentary consent.
Yesterday, Mr Hannan said he had apologised publicly and privately for the remarks, but insisted he was only making a "dignified protest within the rules". He added: "I was making a one-minute speech after each vote to say there should be a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. There was no question that I was allowed to do that, but being reminded of what they had promised seemed to irk the majority there."
As well as being rebuked in Westminster, Mr Hannan was censured by Giles Chichester, the leader of the Tory MEPs, and carpeted by the party's chief whip in Strasbourg. Mr Chichester condemned Mr Hannan's remarks as "unacceptable", adding: "[He] has given grievous offence to colleagues in the European Parliament, in particular to German and French MEPs. I deplore the clumsily inept way he caused offence and do not believe such interventions benefit the Conservative cause."
The Tory chief whip, Den Dover, also criticised Mr Hannan, saying: "What he said was nothing to do with Conservative Party policy."
Mr Hannan, has been a persistent thorn in the side of pro-European MEPs. He was last in the news in December, when he helped to organise a protest to disrupt parliamentary business, and heckled EU leaders who signed the new charter of fundamental rights. He has also called for Britain's withdrawal from the EU, and successfully lobbied the Tory leader David Cameron to pledge to withdraw the party from the EPP. And, of course, in his journalistic dispatches from Brussels, Mr Hannan pours scorn on the European "project" as a whole.
The MEP, educated at Marlborough and Oxford, was a special adviser to the former Tory leader Michael Howard in 1997 and led the European Research Group. One former political opponent branded him a "headbanger" on Europe, while Tory colleagues expressed exasperation at his latest tactics.
Labour, meanwhile, seized on the row, pointing out two Nazi references by senior Conservative MPs in the Commons. Earlier this month, Andrew Robathan, the MP for Blaby, was rebuked by the Deputy Speaker for accusing the Foreign Secretary David Miliband of a "rant of propaganda that would be worthy of Goebbels". And in a debate on the EU reform treaty on Monday, Sir Nicholas Winterton told MPs: "To my mind, this sort of tactic would not have been untypical of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union."
Jim Murphy, the minister for Europe, said last night: "Three elected Tory representatives have used Nazism as a political insult in the last few days. The use of such terms demeans the memory of those who suffered at the hands of Hitler and has no place in democratic debate. I hope David Cameron breaks his silence and makes it clear to these three Tory politicians that their remarks are wholly unacceptable."Reuse content