Farage’s comments on Ukraine are ‘disgraceful’, Starmer tells LBC, as PM accuses him of ‘playing into Putin’s hands’

22 June 2024, 10:19 | Updated: 22 June 2024, 12:35

Starmer labels Farage's comments 'disgraceful'
Starmer labels Farage's comments 'disgraceful'. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Nigel Farage is facing a growing backlash after he said the West provoked Russia into invading Ukraine.

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Mr Farage, who has previously come under fire for saying he admired Vladimir Putin, later said that "of course" the Russian president is at fault for his country's war with Kyiv.

But the Reform UK leader maintained that the "ever-eastward expansion" of NATO and the European Union had given the Kremlin "an excuse" to move troops across the border.

Mr Farage's comments put him at odds with the leaders of other major parties, including the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

He told LBC: "I would say the comments from Farage are disgraceful and I think everybody who stands for office in our parliament ought to be clear that we stand with Ukraine, that Russia is the aggressor and Putin bears the responsibility for Russian aggression and will be held to account for it.

"We see this on the battlefield, we see it online and we have to be resolute in defending ourselves against Russian aggression and that means standing with Ukraine, defending Ukraine, supporting Ukraine but also supporting our own freedom and democracy and that's why I've aways said we have got an unshakeable commitment to Nato, an unshakeable commitment to freedom and democracy which was won - hard won - by those who came before us."

Earlier this morning, Rishi Sunak said this morning that the comments were "completely wrong" and "play into Putin's hands".

The Prime Minister told reporters: "What he said was completely wrong and only plays into (Vladimir) Putin's hands. "This is a man who deployed nerve agents on the streets of Britain, who's doing deals with countries like North Korea.

"And this kind of appeasement is dangerous for Britain's security, the security of our allies that rely on us and only emboldens Putin further."

Earlier this morning, Labour's Steve Reed told LBC that Mr Farage is "bending over" for Putin.

He told Matthew Wright: "I was absolutely shocked to hear Nigel Farage say what he said. We all saw what Putin did, a brutal, illegal, unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country.

"And instead of standing firm with Western allies, and telling Vladimir Putin no more, there we see Farage kowtowing to the man, bending over in front of him and kissing his boots.

"If you do that to a brutal dictator they will invade again. It's so important we stand up to this kind of behaviour if we want to protect the freedom we enjoy across the Western world."

On Friday, the Home Secretary, James Cleverly, accused Mr Farage of "echoing Putin", while Ben Wallace, the former defence secretary, today said the Reform UK leader was a "pub bore" over the comments.

Military analyst brands Nigel Farage a 'wannabe politician' after Russia comments

Speaking in a Panorama interview on Friday evening, Mr Farage said: "I stood up in the European Parliament in 2014 and I said, and I quote, ‘there will be a war in Ukraine.’

"Why did I say that? It was obvious to me that the ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union was giving this man a reason to his Russian people to say, ‘They’re coming for us again,’ and to go to war."

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Speaking today, Sunak also responded to Mr Farage's claims that he "does not understand our culture".

The Reform UK leader made the suggestion after the Prime Minister left the D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations in Normandy before the main international event.

Speaking to broadcasters during an campaign visit in London, Mr Sunak said: "I love this country deeply for what it has done for my family.

"My grandparents emigrated here with very little and two generations later I have the enormous privilege of being our Prime Minister.

"And that's why I will work my hardest to repay this country for everything that it has done for my family."

Nigel Farage on Friday
Nigel Farage on Friday. Picture: Alamy

Mr Farage added: "We provoked this war. It’s – you know, of course it’s [Putin's] fault, he’s used what we’ve done as an excuse."

Pushed on comments he made in 2014, when he said that Putin was the leader he admired most, Mr Farage said: "I said I disliked him as a person, but admired him as a political operator because he's managed to take control of running Russia".

Putin has served continuously as either Russian president or prime minister since 1999. Western observers do not consider elections in Russia to be fair.

Mr Farage also faced questions about his party's plans to scrap the net-zero programme.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: Alamy

He said: "Ever since the late 1980s perhaps there's been a bit of hype around this and I think that perhaps is wrong. No wonder we've got people spraying Stonehenge with orange powder, because all we ever talk about is fear rather than solutions."

Asked about comments he made in 2021, when he called then-Prince Charles an "eco-loony", Mr Farage said: "The King, he wasn't the King then, and I can't speak ill of the monarch obviously. But he did used to say ... He did used to say that carbon dioxide was a pollutant, which I thought was a very stupid comment."

The Reform UK leader added: "Right, listen, we've deindustrialised. Our steelworks close, where do they go? India.The same steel gets produced in India under lower environmental standards and then shipped back to us.

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"Globally, by closing those steel plants, the amount of CO2 put into the air has gone up. All we've done is to export the emissions.

"Similarly with coal, there's an anthracite mine up in Cumbria that could be opened. We're not going to open it. We are overtaxing the North Sea. The Tories have done this, not Labour."

Why did Nigel Farage praise Andrew Tate?

Mr Farage came out of retirement to stand for Parliament in this election, and Reform has soared in popularity during the campaign, if the polls are to be believed.

Some polls even have Reform ahead of the Conservatives, including one released on Friday, although others are less favourable.

Mr Farage, who has run unsuccessfully for a seat in the Commons seven times, has still set his sights high, telling voters earlier this week that he wants to be Prime Minister by 2029.

Launching the party's manifesto, he said: "Our plan - and this is our first big election as a party - our plan is to establish that bridgehead in parliament and to use that voice to build a big national campaigning movement around the country over the course of the next five years for genuine change."

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