“We will not be selling milkshakes or ice cream tonight,” the sign in the window of a McDonald’s near Edinburgh, Scotland, read. “This is due to police request given recent events.”
Those “recent events” are the scourge of milkshakes being flung at European parliamentary candidates across the United Kingdom, specifically those of a certain persuasion: right-wing, populist, and, somewhat ironically, skeptical of the European Union.
The police near Edinburgh were mainly concerned about protecting Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and a prominent champion of Brexit, from a potential milkshake attack. Farage, who now leads the new Brexit Party, was holding a campaign rally in the area last Friday ahead of the European parliamentary elections, which start May 23.
Like a number of other far-right, populist politicians across Europe, Farage is running for a seat in the European Parliament, one of the main legislative bodies of the European Union, and the only one whose members — known as MEPs — are directly elected by EU citizens. The elections are organized at the national level, which is why Farage is trying to win over voters in Edinburgh.
But while Farage managed to evade a dairy drenching last week, his luck ran out just a few days later: At an event in Newcastle, England, on Monday, a protester lobbed a milkshake at Farage, leaving the politician’s dark suit dripping with Five Guys’ banana and salted caramel.
“I was quite looking forward to it, but I think it went on a better purpose,” alleged milkshake assailant Paul Crowther, 32, told reporters. (Crowther was later charged with common assault and criminal damage.)
On Wednesday, in the final push before voters go to the polls, Farage was trapped on his turquoise Brexit Party bus after someone spotted three men near the back of a crowd of supporters wearing balaclavas and brandishing milkshakes (flavor unknown) at a campaign stop in Kent.
According to a reporter for Kent Live, Farage did eventually get off the bus, but he didn’t stray far and retreated “quickly” back to the bus after chatting with a few supporters.
“Milkshaking” has now become the demonstration du jour in Britain ahead of European elections. These elections are especially contentious in the UK, as it was supposed to be out of the EU by now and not participating in this process at all.
In a country torn and polarized over Brexit — one segment of the public furious it hasn’t happened, the other side angry that it’s still moving forward and searching for a way to stop it — an icy refreshment has become an expression of frustration against the people seen as most responsible for Britain’s political divisions.
Farage isn’t the only one who’s been targeted
Farage isn’t alone. Other controversial MEP candidates have been hit by milkshakes during the European election campaigns.
UKIP candidate Carl Benjamin, a YouTuber known as Sargon of Akkad with a history of misogynistic comments, has gotten slimed with milkshakes at least four times this campaign season. And Tommy Robinson, an Islamophobic firebrand, got milkshaked twice in two days.
Tossing an ice-cream drink at a politician or public figure whose views you find abhorrent certainly makes a political point, and it is admittedly kind of funny. But some have condemned the incidents, saying they send the message that it’s acceptable to attack or silence people with force.
Brendan Cox — the spouse of UK Parliament member Jo Cox, who was murdered ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum by a white supremacist — spoke out on Twitter, saying that while he “profoundly” dislikes Farage’s politics and his “willingness to pander to hatred &division,” he doesn’t “think throwing stuff at politicians you disagree with is a good idea.”
“It normalises violence &intimidation and we should consistently stand again it,” Cox added.
As Cox seems to suggest, there’s the potential for escalation. And on Wednesday, violence broke out near a campaign rally in Salford, England. Protesters hurled eggs, but the Guardian reports that the situation turned tense after protesters said rocks were thrown at their group, injuring three.
Of course, the milkshakers were only throwing dairy products. As with the guy who threw the milkshake at Farage this week, they are still likely to face consequences for it. “It’s a right of protest against people like him,” Crowther, the man accused of throwing the milkshake, told reporters. “The bile and the racism he spouts out in this country is far more damaging than a bit of milkshake to his front.”