Nigel Farage has been jeered in the European Parliament after accusing the EU of behaving like the mafia by holding Britain to ransom with “vindictive” demands in the Brexit negotiations.
"You're behaving like the mafia - you think we're a hostage. We're free to go!” the former Ukip leader said in Strasbourg.
His incendiary comments came as MEPs in the European Parliament began debating the EU’s draft negotiating guidelines following the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by Theresa May last week.
It is expected the parliament will formalise their position on Brexit on Wednesday and set out its “red lines” – the first European institution to do so.
The former Ukip leader, who was referred to as a “demagogue” by one MEP before he gave his speech, added that last Wednesday was a “historic day” for Britain following the activation of Article 50. “An act that that he been cheered by hundreds of millions of people all over the world,” he added.
He continued: “The response to the triggering of Article 50 has been all too predictable. Already you’ve made a series of demands that are not just unreasonable but in some cases clearly impossible for Britain to comply with.
Referring to the so-called divorce bill, he added: “You began by telling us we have to pay a bill – a cool 52bn sterling – a figure that has clearly been plucked out of the air, effectively a form of ransom demand…. You should be making us an offer we can’t refuse to go.”
“You’ve shown yourself with these demands to be vindictive, to be nasty. All I can say is thank goodness we’re leaving. You're behaving like the mafia - you think we're a hostage. We're free to go!
But the Ukip leader changed his remark to “gangster” after being chastised by the chair of the European Parliament for comparing the EU to the criminal organisation during the raucous debate.
Mr Farage also told MEPs that if the EU tried to impose tariffs on exports from the UK, Britons could boycott European goods.
"If you wish to have no deal, if you wish to force us to walk away from the table, it is not us that will be hurt," he said.
"Do you know, we don't have to buy German motor cars, we don't have to drink French wine, we don't have to eat Belgian chocolate. There are a lot of other people that will give that to us.
"A return to tariffs will risk the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people living in the European Union and yet what you are saying is you want to put the interests of the European Union above that of your citizens and your companies.
"If you continue with that route, it won't just be the United Kingdom that triggers Article 50. There will be many more to come."
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies