We have written before in this blog about the dubious company kept by the Conservatives on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), one whose main tasks is to propagate human rights across Europe. It is also the body where Henley MP, John Howell, serves as Treasurer of the Conservatives’ grouping, the European Conservatives Democratic Alliance (EC/DA).
Regular readers may have felt that those they associate with could not sink any lower – but then came Mr Morten Messerschmidt.
Mr Messerschmidt is a Dane and a member of the Danish People’s Party. Last week, in a decision that he has said he plans to appeal, he was given a suspended sentence of six months in prison on charges of document fraud and misuse of EU funds.
The court found that roughly 100,000 Danish crowns (£11,500) that was meant to have been used to pay for information campaigns about the European Union was instead used promoting Messerschmidt’s own party.
Of course, you can almost predict the Conservatives likely response: “You can’t blame us – how could we know what all of our partners are doing. This is just a one-off event.” More likely though, is that they have never looked into the background of their partners – or that simply don’t care.
In 2016, Messerschmidt’s party came under heavy criticism for misusing EU funds. At that time, it acknowledged the abuse – it was called ‘sloppy’ – and paid back 2.5 MILLION Danish Kroner to the European Parliament.
Mr Messerschmidt has also expressed some pretty odious views, as a result of which he is not a stranger to court proceedings. In 2001, along with members of the Danish People’s Party’s youth wing, he was convicted of inciting ethnic tension by taking out an advert in a student newspaper that said: ‘Gang rapes, serious acts of violence, insecurity, forced marriages, oppression of women, gang crime. That is what a multi-ethnic society offers.’
Despite these views and activities, Morten Messerschmidt is not without friends in the Conservative Party. One of his biggest defenders has been Daniel (now Lord, courtesy of Boris Johnson) Hannan.
In 2014, he defended him for his views on a multi-ethnic society, saying “Would you want to be judged on something you did in your 20s? If the Danish electorate move on and decide he is a mainstream popular politician, it seems a bit unfair that the rest of us shouldn’t make that same judgement.” He defended the accusations surrounding the misuse of the 2.5 million Kroner as being political in nature and that they “were unequivocally punished because authorities don’t like their political views.”
Lord Hannan may not be unbiased in this view, as a conservative group he co-founded and led was asked in 2018 to repay more than half a million euros of EU funds following an investigation into their spending.
The Conservatives are not going to change. They have been in bed with these far-right parties for too long. As was revealed here previously, Boris Johnson selected the members of the Conservative delegation knowing that they had issued an invitation to Germany’s notorious far-right party, the AfD to join them.
Frankly, it is by no means clear that any of the more reputable groupings would be willing to have them now as members.
So the time has come when John Howell has to choose. Does he distance himself from these people (whose views many of his constituents will find abhorrent), and resign as the Treasurer of the EC/DA?
Or does he stay in role and damage his reputation by counting the cash for people, some of whom are racist, bigots, Islamophobes and (as it stands now) crooks?