Uproar as Beppe Grillo makes terrorist joke about Sadiq Khan

Leader of Italy’s number two party condemned for jibe about new London mayor

Five Star Movement’s leader Beppe Grillo: “We’ll see when [Mr Khan] blows himself up in Westminster,” he said. The controversy is troublesome for the party with Rome’s mayoral election next month. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

Five Star Movement’s leader Beppe Grillo: “We’ll see when [Mr Khan] blows himself up in Westminster,” he said. The controversy is troublesome for the party with Rome’s mayoral election next month. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

 

The comedian who leads Italy’s second-largest political party quipped that Sadiq Khan might “blow himself up in Westminster”, equating London’s first Muslim mayor with a terrorist in a joke that triggered a furore in Italy.

At a weekend show in Padua, Beppe Grillo, head of the populist Five Star Movement, first praised Mr Khan’s victory in the recent mayoral election (although he called him “Bangladeshi” whereas Mr Khan was born in Britain to a family of Pakistani immigrants).

Then Mr Grillo added: “We’ll see when [Mr Khan] blows himself up in Westminster.”

The one-liner from Mr Grillo (67) may be hard to defend for senior members of his party as they try to win Rome’s mayoral election next month and vie for a chance to challenge the centre-left government of Matteo Renzi.

The comment could also prove troublesome for Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence party, who has developed a relatively close connection with Mr Grillo in recent years. He has already distanced himself from Marine Le Pen, France’s right-wing leader.

The Five Star Movement and Ukip share membership of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy bloc in the European Parliament.

In March, Mr Farage said Mr Grillo was “doing amazingly well . . . here’s one of the great paradoxes: Eurosceptic parties across Europe are dominated by young people.”

In Italy, Mr Grillo’s joke drew immediate fire from members of Mr Renzi’s ruling Democratic party. “The Five Star Movement is now distinguishing itself for its racism and xenophobia,” Andrea Romano, a Democratic party lawmaker, said on Sunday, according to La Stampa, the daily newspaper.

Meanwhile, Roberto Giachetti, the Democratic party candidate for mayor of Rome, wrote in a tweet: “Grillo did not make me laugh.” Mr Giachetti is trailing Virginia Raggi, the Five Star Movement candidate, in the race to be Rome’s mayor, and has been looking for opportunities to bolster his support.

The Five Star Movement now draws support from about 28 per cent of Italians, according to recent polls, which is within about five percentage points of Mr Renzi’s leading Democratic party. Its popularity has grown on the back of a staunch anti-establishment message focused on curbing corruption, battling austerity and promoting environmentalism, drawing from both the right and the left of the political spectrum.

Unlike the anti-immigrant Northern League, Italy’s third largest party, the Five Star Movement has not taken a particularly strong stance on the migration crisis, except to lament that it helps feed organised crime groups.

Mr Grillo’s comments will mark a setback for a new generation of lawmakers within the Five Star Movement who are trying to smooth over the party’s rougher edges as they make a bid to unseat Mr Renzi. In particular, Luigi di Maio, a 29-year old Neapolitan who is considered its rising star, has been on a charm offensive with foreign officials and politicians in an attempt to build his international credibility.

Mr Khan’s office declined to comment.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2016