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14 May 2019updated 24 Jul 2021 3:12am

One row in the north west sums up these European elections

By Anoosh Chakelian

In the north west, the Brexit Party’s top candidate for the European elections appears to be breezing through a row about her former comments on the IRA.

For two decades, Claire Fox was a core member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, which defended the 1993 IRA bombing of Warrington – a town in the European constituency that she is standing to represent. Following the attack – which killed 12-year-old Tim Parry and three-year-old Johnathan Ball, and injured 56 others – the party’s official newsletter wrote that it defended “the right of the Irish people to take whatever measures necessary in their struggle for freedom”.

The Brexit Party has said Fox no longer holds these views, and she herself has expressed sympathy for the bereaved, as well as support for the Good Friday Agreement, and says she does not condone violence.

However, Tim’s father Colin Parry said she refused to disavow the comments when they spoke on the phone, and the Warrington Guardian reported that she “fails to apologise”.

A fellow Brexit Party candidate in the region, Sally Bate, quit over her stance. “I am unhappy with Claire’s statement since she has not categorically condemned the violence inflicted by the IRA… in view of Claire’s ambiguous position on the issue I cannot continue to stand beside her as a Brexit candidate and resign with immediate effect,” she said.

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The story broke two weeks ago, but Fox – one of the party’s highest-profile candidates as a prolific and provocative commentator – remains in the race.

Although the Parrys and some politicians in the north west, such as Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, have decried her presence on the ballot paper, and despite Bate’s resignation, the row has not yet knocked the party in the region. “Claire Fox is number one, unless she’s sacked, and in the event she won’t be sacked, she will be elected,” says one opposing candidate. “People who still believe in Brexit are going to gravitate around the Brexit Party, so they’re going to get a significant share of the vote, from what we’ve seen in campaigning.”

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One Warrington-based candidate feels this is yet another sign of the eroding standards of British politics. “New norms are entering our politics and characters that should be nowhere near elected office are wearing a so-called cloak of democratic patriotism to hide their hideous views,” says Change UK north west candidate Dan Price, who grew up in Warrington and is a councillor there. He calls this Faragist, water-off-a-press-officer’s-back trend “an ugly new phenomena in British politics”.

Yet he praises what he sees as Warrington’s rejection of Fox. “Wherever you look, from the local newspaper’s letters pages to conversations at bus stops and in the pubs, you’ll hear a loud condemnation of Fox.”

Nevertheless, what would once have been a scandal to the advantage of the main party candidates no longer sticks. A more extreme example is the staying power of Ukip’s south west candidate, alt-right YouTuber Carl Benjamin, who refuses to apologise for saying he “wouldn’t even rape” the MP Jess Phillips.