Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has held a dinner meeting with Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-European Union UK Independence Party, prompting critics to accuse him of using his clout to interfere in Britain’s debate about the European Union.
Prime Minister David Cameron promised to try to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU and to hold a referendum on staying in or leaving by the end of 2017, a pledge which fueled public debate between supporters and opponents.
A spokesman for UKIP, which favours Britain leaving the EU, said the dinner took place at Murdoch’s London flat on Tuesday. He declined to divulge details of what was discussed. “There was dinner on Tuesday night and it was at Murdoch’s invitation,” the spokesman said.
Separately, Farage told the BBC that Murdoch was “a remarkable bloke” who had been keen to learn more about UKIP.
UKIP, which has no MPs in the British parliament but which has promised a political “earthquake” in European Parliament elections next year, beat the ruling Conservatives into third place at a vote for a parliamentary seat earlier this month, shocking the political establishment.
Peter Wilding, director of British Influence, a group campaigning for Britain to stay inside the EU, said Murdoch’s meeting had helped UKIP to enter the political mainstream. “It’s dangerous and it’s mischievous,” he said. “For Murdoch anti-Europeanism is a religion and his influence over the debate has been hugely powerful and hugely negative.”
In January, Murdoch dined with George Osborne, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove in similar circumstances.
Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at London’s City University, said the Farage meeting showed that Murdoch’s evidence to an official inquiry into media ethics set up after a phone hacking scabdal was at odds with his own behaviour. “He’s playing politics, something he says he doesn’t do,” Greenslade said