Thu 1 October 2020

The Prime Minister is said to have been in two minds about remaining in the EU – but Iggy Ostantin reveals he supported far-right figures who opposed it

Prime Minister Boris Johnson authored two articles defending the far-right politician Jörg Haider, Byline Times can reveal.

When the EU rallied against the Austrian Government for entering into a coalition with Haider’s Freedom Party in February 2000, Johnson wrote that “Haider is vilified by Brussels, because he is so monstrous as to oppose deeper European integration”.

Haider, who died in 2008, was known for his Nazi sympathies.

In 1995, he referred to Nazi concentration camps as “punishment camps”, suggesting that their victims were criminals. In leaked footage recorded in September that year, Haider told a group of Waffen-SS veterans that they were “decent people who have character and who have stuck to their beliefs through the strongest head winds and who remained true to their convictions until today”. 

The Waffen-SS, the military branch of Adolf Hitler’s SS, had direct involvement in many war crimes and crimes against humanity. Its duties included guarding the Nazis’ concentration camps, but Haider told a television interview in December 1995 that “the Waffen-SS was a part of the Wehrmacht [the German military] and hence it deserves all the honour and respect of the army in public life”.

Writing in the Telegraph, Johnson did not provide an accurate picture of Haider’s history as a Nazi sympathiser.

He wrote: “Mr Haider is one of these slick types who pander to the worst instincts of the voters; one moment calling for ‘Austrian jobs for Austrian people’, the next apologising and denying all charges of extremism. One day he is practising his fencing with a straw dummy labelled ‘Simon Wiesenthal’, or saying that the SS were pretty patriotic chaps, or that Hitler’s employment policies were sound; and the next he is in America visiting a Holocaust museum and calling for tolerance.” 

‘Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea’

Criticism over Haider came from senior officials at the time including Germany’s Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Britain’s Robin Cook. A group of Holocaust survivors pleaded with Austria’s President not to let the far-right Freedom Party into government. The international community responded to Austria with sanctions that ultimately led to Haider’s resignation.

Johnson opposed these sanctions.

Writing in a Spectator editorial, Johnson accused the EU of hypocrisy for objecting to Haider but continuing to deal with the UK Government, which he said was partly comprised of “unrepentant terrorists.”

He wrote: “No one utters a peep of protest about the presence, in the Government of the United Kingdom, of Martin McGuinness and other members of Sinn Fein.”

Johnson continued: “Herr Haider is clearly not everyone’s cup of tea. When he speaks of Hitler’s sound employment policies and the patriotism of the SS, one imagines him struggling, like Dr Strangelove, to prevent his arm from springing into a fascist salute. On the other hand, he has been democratically elected by a large proportion of the Austrian people, and he has no criminal convictions.”

At that time, Johnson was editor of the Spectator and, while the article did not bear his name, the fact he authored it was mentioned in the Evening Standard. In a piece titled ‘Herr Haider and His English Allies‘ Christopher Hudson quoted the article. He wrote: “In the words of Boris Johnson’s editorial in last week’s Spectator, it is that: ‘Haider is vilified by Brussels because he is so monstrous as to oppose deeper European integration’.”

Johnson’s Telegraph article was considerably more critical of the EU and the international response than to Haider himself. He called the outrage over Haider’s presence in the Austrian Government a “more or less trivial development in the politics of Mitteleuropa” and the international response “a piece of diplomacy that is not only crass, arrogant and counter-productive, but also full of meaning about the age in which we live”.

Johnson also compared support for Nazi supporters to communists in Italy and ex-communists in the UK, writing that “no one objects to the presence of communists in Italy, and 80 million died in the last century, thanks to the tyranny of communism. No one objects to the presence of ex-communists on the Labour front bench in Britain. Did they never in their youth let fall a word in praise of Stalin or Lenin?”

Despite the views Johnson expressed about communism and the IRA, he recently handed a peerage to Claire Fox, who was a senior activist in the Revolutionary Communist Party and supported the 1993 IRA bombing in Warrington.

Johnson ended the Telegraph article by claiming that the Haider incident demonstrated that the “left won the Cold War” because the “evils of communism are quietly sponged from the record, and we whip ourselves into a frenzy about an allegedly fascist clown”.

He added: “This is not the 1930s. Mr Haider is not a threat to other EU members, or probably even to Austria. Instead of allowing his countrymen to see his deficiencies, we insult them with out hysterics: and all because he is an Austrian whose surname Begins with H and ends with R”.

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