France’s National Front number two quits as far-right party in turmoil

PARIS (Reuters) – The right-hand man of French National Front leader Marine Le Pen quit the party on Thursday, raising the prospect of a split in the far-right’s ranks after Le Pen’s defeat in the May presidential election and months of internal feuding.

Florian Philippot, Le Pen’s closest aide and an architect of efforts to detoxify the party’s image, announced on French TV a departure that had looked increasingly inevitable in recent days.

His exit is expected to allow Le Pen to refocus on core policies around immigration and French national identity, while perhaps softening its anti-euro and EU-sceptic tone, which some blame for having damaged its showing in the election, when Le Pen was resoundingly defeated in the presidential run-off.

While Philippot’s departure is likely to increase turmoil in the party at first and others are expected to follow him out the door, the FN has survived similar crises in the past and analysts expect it to do the same this time. Philippot is seen as too divisive within the far-right to create a party that would be a serious threat.

Le Pen, who has shown a sometimes ruthless determination to hold on to power in the National Front, having already pushed out her father Jean-Marie, the founder of the party, withdrew Philippot’s responsibilities within the movement late on Wednesday, leaving him with little choice about his future.

“I‘m not into being ridiculed, I‘m not into having nothing to do. And so yes, of course, I‘m quitting the National Front,” Philippot, 35 and a graduate of France’s elite administrative school ENA, told France 2 television.

The National Front, which has made major inroads in local, regional and European elections over the past decade, will hold a congress in March where internal differences in the wake of its defeat to Macron and his new party are set to come to a head.

Since the election, the far-right had tried to portray itself as the main voice of opposition against Macron. But in recent weeks that mantle has been assumed by Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), who is calling for mass demonstrations against Macron’s efforts to overhaul France’s labor rules.

FAR-LEFT THRILLED

FILE PHOTO – Then French National Front (FN) vice-president Florian Philippot speaks during an interview with Reuters in Paris, France, November 25, 2016. Philippot, the right-hand man of French National Front leader Marine Le Pen quit the party…

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