| Ravishing guide to|
|God Save the Queen?|
The Bruges Group is a British right-wing campaigning organisation with links to the far-right. It describes itself as "an independent all-party think tank". It has its roots in the struggle for Brexit and in opposition to the European Union. Vice magazine called it "the right-wing think-tank where Tories get their conspiracy theories", and its events and publications have referred to far-right talking points and racist and antisemitic conspiracy theories such as the "great replacement", "cultural Marxism", and conspiracy theories around Jewish investor George Soros.
- Norman Lamont (now Lord Lamont of Lerwick) — former Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, Vice President of the Bruges Group.
- Barry Legg — Chairman, Conservative MP from 1992-97. As a councillor in Westminster, he took the decision to put 100 families, including 150 children, in buildings known to be contaminated with asbestos. A euroskeptic going back to the 1990s, he has also been involved in similar groups such as Conservative Way Forward and No Turning Back Group.
- Robert Oulds — Director, author of various books on political themes. He was dropped as a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservative party in 2005 after posing for photographs brandishing an AK-47, hunting knives and other weapons. "Moralitis, A Cultural Virus", a pamphlet by Oulds and Niall McCrae distributed at fringe meetings around the 2018 Conservative Party Conference, referred to the "great replacement" far-right conspiracy theory about foreigners conspiring to destroy the white race. He appears regularly on Russian propaganda channel RT. He has been involved with other organisations including the Campaign for an Independent Britain and the People's Charter Foundation.
- Norman Tebbit — the Thatcherite ex-minister has been honorary president since 2013
- Graham Eardley — events officer, former UKIP parliamentary candidate
- David Wilkinson — events officer, former member of UKIP NEC and founding editor of anti-EU magazine These Tides
- Margaret Thatcher — As of February 2021, it still lists on its website "Founder President: The Rt Hon. the Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG, OM, FRS".
- Ralph Harris — the founder, an economist of Thatcherite beliefs who was previously with another right-wing think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs.
Politicians who have spoken at meetings, served on advisory panels, or otherwise given support to the organisation include.
- Suella Braverman — the former junior Brexit minister spoke at 2019 meeting condemning any delay in leaving the EU. At this event, Braverman claimed that Conservative politicians were "engaged in a battle against Cultural Marxism", which is a far-right buzzword associated with antisemitic conspiracy theories. Challenged by journalist Dawn Foster on the fact that she was quoting talking points from far-right terrorist Anders Breivik, Braverman repeated herself, saying "Yes, I do believe we are in a battle against a Cultural Marxism, as I said".
- Nigel Farage — the anti-Brexit politician spoke at a Bruges Group meeting at the 2013 Conservative Party conference.
- Norman Blackwell — a Conservative peer and former head of John Major's policy unit
- Priti Patel — the right-wing Conservative Home Secretary has addressed Bruges Group meetings twice, in 2018 and 2019.
It has received a number of sizable donations. At the time of the 2016 referendum, Lord Anthony Bamford of JCB gave £10,000 and businessman Patrick Barbour gave £30,000.
It was founded in 1989 by Ralph Harris to promote a looser relationship between Britain and the European Union. It is named after the city of Bruges in Belgium, the site of a 1988 speech by Margaret Thatcher taken as crucial in her growing opposition to European integration.
The group has shown a fondness for Vladimir Putin, producing a 2014 video called "Someone had Blundered: The EU and Ukraine", which supported his actions in the Ukraine and featured Oulds, Tebbit, John Redwood, Peter Bone MP, Bernard Jenkin MP, and former Bruges Group co-chair Martin Holmes. The video was made with the assistance of Russian state-owned TV network RT. Holmes called for the partition of Ukraine.
The organisation was active in campaigning for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.
After Leave won the referendum, the Bruges Group continued to push for the most decisive possible break with the EU, condemning any delay in leaving.
The organisation seems keen on far-right conspiracy theories. Robert Oulds and Niall McCrae have both written for the Bruges Group attacking bogeymen such as cultural Marxism. McCrae has also promoted antisemitic conspiracy theories about George Soros and written in defence of far-right politician and journalist Tommy Robinson (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon).
As mentioned, Conservative politician Suella Braverman has also used a Bruges Group meeting to denounce cultural Marxism. Afterwards, it doubled down with an article "Suella Braverman is right: cultural Marxism is a real and present danger" by David Kurten. This recycled the right-wing culture-war talking points about political correctness being a threat to free speech, saying, "If you say something politically incorrect just once, an army of social justice warriors will come to destroy your reputation on social media." Kurten defended a comic repeatedly using the phrase "a bunch of poofs" as a high-point of British comedy. While condemning "childish" Marxism, he offered up infantile analysis such as, "If you are a straight, white, cis-male, English Christian you are inherently an oppressor with maximum privilege, and you must continuously self-flagellate in public to atone for your original sin. If you are a black Muslim trans-lesbian migrant you have no privilege and are a victim on every possible count."
Oulds and McCrae's booklet "Moralitis, A Cultural Virus" also claims that immigration, particularly of Muslims, is due to "a deliberate policy to replace one set of voters with another".
It continues to push right-wing conspiracy theories, including against Soros. In 2019 it claimed "George Soros' 'Open Society Foundation London' spent a staggering £52 million in the United Kingdom last year. Soros is not a bogeyman. He's a real and dangerous influence." A truly bizarre 2019 article by McCrae managed to yoke Soros to Esperanto inventor "Ludwig L Zamenhof, an eye doctor and Ashkenazi Jew" in conspiracy to subvert the dominance of the English language and hence of England (Soros had been interested in Esperanto in his youth); the fact that Esperanto is "genderless" is also mentioned.
Searchlight magazine listed several regular attendees at Bruges Group meetings who have links to the far right:
- Michèle Renouf — an Australian-born British campaigner associated with "Holocaust revisionism"
- Martin Webster — National organiser of the National Front, has also addressed meetings of New Right and London Forum and has several criminal convictions
- Sam Swerling — vice-president of the Traditional Britain Group, formerly of the League of Empire Loyalists and British National Party
- Lindsay Jenkins — council member of the Freedom Association
- "Priti Patel and the Bruges Group", Searchlight, Summer 2020, pp 20-23
- The Bruges Group, Bruges Group website, accessed 26 Feb 2021
- The Bruges Group: The Right-Wing Think-Tank Where Tories Get Their Conspiracy Theories, Vice, 2019
- "Pretty Hypocritical", Gerry Gable, Searchlight, Spring 2021, p 5
- Main Page, Bruges Group website, accessed 26 Feb 2021
- See the Wikipedia article on Barry Legg.
- Tory candidate axed for posing with AK-47, The Guardian, 20 Jan 2005
- The 'Deeply Worrying' Far-Right Booklets Distributed at Tory Conference, Vice, 3 October 2018
- One True Brexit's standard bearers stand firm in bonkers battle, John Crace, The Guardian, 26 March 2019
- Nigel Farage to address Bruges group at Tory conference, The Guardian, 27 July 2013
- Old pals plot to sabotage project for a new Europe, The Guardian, 25 May 2003
- Speech to the College of Europe ("The Bruges Speech"), Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher Foundation website, first published 1988
- Suella Braverman is right: cultural Marxism is a real and present danger, David Kurten, Bruges Group website, 28 March 2019
- , Bruges Group on Twitter, Oct 8, 2019
- Esperanto: an ideologically perfect language for the EU, Niall McCrae, Bruges Group blog, 15 March 2019