UK Reform leader Farage speech interrupted by banner mocking Putin views

A remote-controlled screen operated by the political activist group, Led By Donkeys, lowers as Reform UK leader Nigel Farage speaks in Walton-on-the-Naze

LONDON (Reuters) - A speech being delivered by Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain's right-wing Reform UK party, was interrupted late Saturday when a banner of Russian President Vladimir Putin descended from the ceiling at an election rally.

Campaign group Led by Donkeys, which opposes Farage's views, said it was responsible for the stunt at the Columbine Centre, at Walton on the Naze in southeast England, and posted a video of the unveiling on X.

That showed the banner slowly unfurling behind a speaking Farage, revealing a smiling Putin giving a thumbs-up sign, along with the words "I (heart emoji) Nigel".

Led By Donkeys said on X: "Nigel Farage says Putin is the world leader he 'admires the most' and blames the West for Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine."

That was a reference to comments Farage made earlier this month when he said the eastward expansion of the European Union and NATO had provoked Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

The remarks, made in an interview with the BBC, drew strong criticism across the British political spectrum ahead of a July 4 national election in which Farage's party is predicted to win millions of votes.

On seeing the banner, Farage said: "Who put that up there," adding: "Someone at the Columbine Centre needs to get the sack."

The audience then started chanting: "Rip it down."

Reuters has sought comment from Reform UK.

Farage is seeking election as a lawmaker, or member of parliament (MP), in Clacton-on-Sea, which is nine miles from Walton on the Naze.

On Friday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was hurt and angry that a supporter of Reform UK had been recorded making a racial slur about him, saying it was too important for him not to speak out.

(This story has been corrected to say 'I (heart emoji) Nigel', not Putin, in paragraph 3)

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Daniel Wallis)