Nigel Farage has accused concertgoers who waved European Union flags at the Last Night of the Proms on Saturday of being in denial about Brexit, as remain campaigners claimed a publicity victory when BBC TV pictures showed a sea of blue and gold stars at the traditionally patriotic event.
Anti-Brexit activists claim they handed out around 7,000 free EU flags to ticket holders and musicians at the Royal Albert Hall in a carefully planned, crowdfunded campaign that angered the former Ukip leader and other leave supporters.
“I got chucked out of the Albert Hall three times last night for handing out flags inside,” said Clive Lewis, 60, a consultant engineer and one of the lead organisers of the Flags at the Proms campaign, which raised more than £4,000 from 250 members of the public. “I think we gave out about 7,000 flags to people going in and musicians.”
That was far more than the estimated 2,500 they managed to distribute in 2016shortly after the referendum result.
TV pictures of the concert, conducted by Sakari Oramo from Finland, showed large numbers of EU flags being flown inside the Albert Hall alongside union flags and flags from Germany, Sweden, Japan and beyond. In some cases concertgoers held union flags and EU flags together as they sang along to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 and Parry’s Jerusalem.
They also heard a Swedish opera singer singing Wagner and songs by Kurt Weill, a German Jew who fled the Nazis in 1933. TV pictures from parallel concerts in Hyde Park, Glasgow, Enniskillen and Swansea, where there were no comparable EU flag campaigns, showed notably fewer EU flags.
Lewis said he was delighted with the response at the Albert Hall: “We got on the BBC and we got a hate piece in the Mail. We just want to get the message out there that we are not giving up. We want to remain and we want to get that out there as much as we can.”
But Farage told the Guardian: “These people are still in denial over the referendum result. They are trying to make it all about them instead of a great concert. The British people want to leave the EU no matter how many flags they fly.”
Before the concert Farage had told the Daily Express that he would be asking the former Ukip donor Arron Banks to fund the supply of a large number of union jacks to counter the EU flags, but that plan did not appear to have come to fruition.
Earlier in the prom season, campaigners who unfurled large EU flags over balconies in the auditorium during a performance which included Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, which has become an EU anthem, were ordered to put them away by venue staff.
Before the concert the BBC and the Royal Albert Hall had resisted calls from some pro-leave groups calling for EU flags to be removed from concertgoers.
A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC Proms is a music platform, not a political one, with the Last Night of the Proms offering a celebration of two months of extraordinary music making.
“As part of that tradition, flags are permitted in line with the Royal Albert Hall’s guidelines, and as in previous years, we are sure there will be a wide variety of flags on display.”