Moves to halt Le Pen's Scottish joyride

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The Independent Online
STRASBOURG - Jean-Marie Le Pen's trip to Edinburgh looks set to end even before he ventures across the Channel, writes Andrew Marshall.

The French National Front leader was planning a trip to Scotland next month, financed by EC taxpayers' money. His colleagues in the European right in the European Parliament were going along, for what are euphemistically called 'study days'. Today, however, the Socialist group in the Parliament plans to clip his wings. There is a campaign to wreck the visit in Scotland. Even the hotel where he is to stay is rumoured to be rethinking the booking.

The visit has stirred enormous passions in Strasbourg, where great interest has been taken in Mr Le Pen's recent travels. He has just returned from Corfu, where by most accounts he didn't do much studying. He is, it has emerged, also planning to go to Madeira and Berlin, exploiting what seems to be a loophole in the Parliament's regulations to spend large amounts.

Glyn Ford, Labour leader in the European Parliament, said the issue would be raised today in a meeting of the Parliament's executive body, and called for a crackdown on the abuse of parliamentary funds, saying: 'This serial junketing must stop.' Though all parties hold 'study days', Mr Le Pen's expeditions are more frequent and apparently more costly per head.

The National Front leader, affecting an air of hurt innocence, yesterday made his case before journalists in Strasbourg. 'This accusation that we were lounging by the poolside (in Corfu) is not true,' he said. 'I don't think I'm stealing money from the European Parliament.' He sought to turn the tables, producing documents that claimed the Socialists had spent more than him on study trips. There are 198 Socialists and 14 members of the European right.

Despite threats of violence against him, Mr Le Pen said he had great confidence in the British police and pledged to continue his trip. He wanted to meet lots of people in Europe, he said, adding: 'We are patriots of our country and of Europe.'

He said he particularly wanted to meet 'nationalists from Britain and Scotland', appearing to think that Scottish Nationalists and the British National Party were roughly the same thing. 'I am sure we will find common ground,' he said, peering through a pair of dark glasses.

His last appeal was to history, however, claiming that the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France meant he would be welcomed with open arms. 'Nationalists of all countries unite,' he said. It is a rallying-call that looks to meet little success in Scotland, at least. The Scottish Nationalists are bitterly opposed to his visit.