Defence rows break out as Cleverley accuses Farage of ‘echoing Putin’

Nigel Farage has been accused of “echoing Putin’s vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine”.

Home Secretary James Cleverly made the charge after Reform UK’s leader said “we provoked this war”, drawing a link between Nato and European Union expansion in recent decades and the conflict in eastern Europe.

Appearing on the Panorama Interviews on BBC One on Friday, Mr Farage faced questions about his opinion of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

He replied: “I said I disliked him as a person, but I admired him as a political operator because he’s managed to take control of running Russia.”

Mr Putin has served continuously as either Russian president or prime minister since 1999, with elections which have been described as “rigged”.

Mr Farage, a former member of the European Parliament, also said: “Right, I’ll tell you what you don’t know, 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.”

Mr Farage went on to say he had been making similar comments “since the 1990s, ever since the fall of the (Berlin) Wall” and added: “Hang on a second, we provoked this war.

“It’s, you know, of course it’s his fault – he’s used what we’ve done as an excuse.”

Mr Farage has drawn criticism from senior politicians, including Mr Cleverly who wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “Just Farage echoing Putin’s vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine.”

Labour shadow defence secretary John Healy said Mr Farage would “rather lick Vladimir Putin’s boots than stand up for the people of Ukraine” and added: “These are disgraceful comments, which reveal the true face of Nigel Farage: a Putin apologist who should never be trusted with our nation’s security.

“Up until now, there has been a united front amongst Britain’s political leaders in supporting the people of Ukraine against the unprovoked and unjustifiable assault they have suffered at the hands of Vladimir Putin.”

Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood told the Daily Telegraph: “Churchill will be turning in his grave.

“Putin, already enjoying how Farage is disrupting British politics, will be delighted to hear this talk of appeasement during our election debate.”

A row has also broken out in Plymouth Moor View, where Conservative candidate and veterans minister Johnny Mercer accused his Labour rival, Fred Thomas, of “bloating” his military service.

Mr Mercer accused his opponent Mr Thomas of lying about his service.

The veterans minister outlined his concerns on the social media website X, writing: “Nobody who serves in Special Forces Support Group claims they are Special Forces.

“Anyone who has served can say if they were or were not actually in combat – the ‘can’t discuss’ line has been used by Walter Mittys since time began.

“Not a single person has put their hand up today and said they fought alongside Fred. Must have been one of those one-man missions that happen all the time.

“He himself boasted of serving in combat missions. It is strange that he now cannot talk about it.”

A Labour spokesperson told the PA news agency that Mr Thomas is a “decorated ex-Royal Marine” who “served for seven years, rising to the rank of captain”.

They added: “Due to the highly sensitive and recent nature of his role, Thomas remains unable to discuss much of his service.

“His Certificate of Valediction notes that Thomas gained ‘considerable operational experience relative to the time you have served’.

“It notes Thomas’ ‘command on operations overseas’ which saw him ‘lead personnel … in a range of hostile and challenging environments’.”

Mr Thomas said: “I am proud of having served my country for seven years, including overseas on operations. I remain unable to discuss much of my service, something which Johnny Mercer – as a former defence minister – is keenly aware of.”