The first time French far-right politician Eric Zemmour visited the UK, in 2021, there was a strong backlash to his appearance. His event at the Royal Institution was cancelled two days before he was due to appear and he ended up speaking to his followers in an Ibis hotel. His most recent visit, over the weekend of 26 to 28 of January, was a more muted affair – but he did manage to meet with a pair of senior Tory MPs and make an Islamophobic propaganda video.
Zemmour is the head of Reconquête, a far-right party whose policies include ending the right to citizenship for people born on French soil to immigrant parents and granting a presumption of legitimate defence to police officers who use their firearms. In 2022 he was charged with hate speech for saying on television that child migrants were “thieves, killers, they’re rapists.” During his time as a columnist for the newspaper Le Figaro, he regularly attacked feminism and blamed many of the social rights won in the aftermath of 1968 for the so called Suicide Francais.
During his recent trip he met with two Tory MPs, former chancellors Kwasi Kwarteng and Nadhim Zahawi.
A video posted on Zemmour’s Instagram account shows the pair sitting around a table in what looks like a hotel. A caption for the video reads, “I spoke with Kwasi Kwarteng, MP and former Chancellor of the Exchequer to Liz Truss and former business and energy minister for Boris Johnson. We face a lot of common challenges, be they migrationary, or industrial, and we have a lot to learn from each other.”
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Asked why he had met with such a divisive figure, Kwarteng – MP for Spelthorne who today announced that he won’t stand at the next election – told Novara Media that they spoke about the fact that Reform UK politician Nigel Farage, “could be a big threat to the Conservative party”.
“I generally try and see people if they want to see me, but I didn’t know what his agenda was other than that he was going to see Nigel Farage,” Kwarteng said.
“I’ve never been a no-platform person. I wanted to hear what he had to say, and listening to him it was clear that he is obsessed with Islam to a point that I haven’t heard any politician in Britain be as focussed on that.”
Kwarteng added that Zemmour, “set out his views about the Islamicisation [sic.] of France, which is not relevant to the UK, we’ve got very good community relations […] and I said to him that I thought integration in the UK had worked a lot better than in France.”
Kwarteng distanced himself from Zemmour’s views, saying, “My line on immigration is pretty much the Conservative line, we’ve got to get it down. But I don’t have any of the wackier, extreme, out-there views, which are basically racist.”
As well as meeting Kwarteng, Zemmour also met with Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford-on-Avon, and posted a picture on Instagram referring to Zahawi’s time as education minister with the caption: “Here as in France, the great indoctrination threatens the future of our children.”
The Great Indoctrination is a corollary conspiracy theory to the Great Replacement pushed by Zemmour, that argues that teachers act in service of the Great Replacement by indoctrinating children with a pro-migrant narrative.
Georgie Laming, director of campaigns at Hope not Hate said: “Nadhim Zahawi should know exactly what kind of hateful politics Eric Zemmour represents. British politicians should not be engaging with him and endorsing his far-right ideas.”
Charlotte Minvielle, the 2022 NUPES (New Ecological and Social People’s Union) candidate from the French Ecologists for Northern European expats said of the meetings: “We have seen what has happened with Meloni in Italy, we have seen the Dutch parliamentary elections have also put the far-right leader in top position and it is really worrying for France to see the normalisation of the far-right and its discourse.
“It is very worrying to see that Conservative MPs are willing to interact with someone who has been condemned several times for hate speech.”
Zahawi did not respond to a request for comment.
On this visit Zemmour also met with a handful of right-wing intellectuals and politicians, including Nigel Farage, David Goodhart, author of the influential book The Road to Somewhere, Dr James Orr, the chair of the Edmund Burke Foundation UK (the organisation that sponsors the hard-right NatCon conference), right-wing YouTubers Konstantin Kisin and Carl Benjamin (AKA Sargon of Akkad) among others.
The visit included a tour around Whitechapel which is in Zemmour’s words, “a district symbolic of the Great Replacement in the UK”. The Great Replacement is a far-right conspiracy theory originating in the writings of French author Renaud Camus. The theory states that a “genocidal bloc” of elites is importing Black and Arab people to replace the white population, thereby destroying white European identity.
Zemmour’s team sent a press release to several journalists saying that the Whitechapel tour would take place on Sunday 28 January. Novara Media went to Whitechapel at the stated time and while there were several counter-protesters waiting for him, there was no sign of Zemmour. That same day, Zemmour posted photos and videos of the tour on his social media feeds, walking round a bustling Whitechapel Market, which is closed on Sundays, meaning the video must have been taken in the previous days.
The photos and videos show people from ethnic minority backgrounds, including veiled and hijab-wearing Muslim women, going about their day peacefully at the market while Zemmour is followed around by YouTuber Carl Benjamin and podcaster Connor Tomlinson.
Stood outside the East London Mosque Zemmour remarks, “the mosque is not just a place of worship, but a place of territorial conquest”.
In the caption to his video he says: “Here in London’s Whitechapel quarter, minarets have replaced bell towers, halal shops have replaced pubs, the Quran has replaced Shakespeare and finally, a foreign people ended up replacing the English.”
Minvielle said: “As foreigners in London, we think that London’s diversity is its strength and we wanted to send a more positive message because communities in Whitechapel are living in harmony, and it’s really a disgusting thing to use footage to convey his xenophobic rhetoric.
“So, we gathered in Whitechapel, and we found out afterwards that he had been there the day before. Once again, he had changed his plan according to what he’d initially shared with the media. This was a victory that he was fearful of any opposition.”
Anita Nissen, a researcher at Aalborg University who focuses on far-right transnationalisation in her work argues that one of the key drivers of far-right internationalism is “knowledge exchange” where actors on respective national rights teach each other in order to inform strategy. Which begs the question, what did British right-wing intellectuals and Tory MPs take away from France’s most high profile champion of Great Replacement theory?