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Ex-Trump strategist Bannon says EU is trying to thwart Brexit

Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon delivers a speech at the "Atreju 2018" meeting organised by Fratelli d'Italia party in Rome, Italy September 22, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

OXFORD, England (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s former political strategist, Steve Bannon, said on Friday that the European Union was trying to thwart Brexit.

Bannon, a former chairman of the right-wing website and an architect of Trump’s 2016 election win, has set up a movement to elect right-wing nationalist and populist members in European Parliament elections next May.

The EU’s elites, he said, did not want Brexit.

“You see what’s happened. They have no intention of letting you guys leave - none. Zero,” Bannon said at the Oxford Union debating society, though he gave no evidence other than saying the EU had made the divorce negotiation difficult.

“They’ve made it as hard as possible, they will continue to make it as hard as possible,” Bannon said.

The United Kingdom is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019. In the June 23, 2016 EU referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 52 percent, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48 percent, backed staying in the bloc.

EU leaders have repeatedly said they are saddened by the UK’s decision to leave and that they will respect the decision.

British Prime Minister Theresa May struck a divorce deal with the EU this week, though opponents in her divided party are trying to topple her because they think the deal would keep the UK too close to the EU after Brexit.

Bannon faced several hundred protesters in Oxford who accused him of being a racist. Police officers eventually escorted the 64-year-old into the Oxford University society’s historic debating chamber through a back entrance.

Reporting by Jack Hunter, editing by Guy Faulconbridge