Nigel Farage speech interrupted by banner showing smirking Vladimir Putin

A speech by Nigel Farage was disrupted when a banner showing a smirking Vladimir Putin descended from the ceiling at an election rally.

Campaign group Led By Donkeys carried out the stunt as the Reform UK leader spoke on stage at the Columbine Centre in Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex.

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Footage posted on social media showed the banner slowly descending from the ceiling showing the Russian president with his thumb up and the caption "I [heart emoji] Nigel".

It comes after Mr Farage faced a backlash for claiming earlier this month the West and NATO "provoked" Russia's war on Ukraine.

Upon seeing the banner, Mr Farage - the Reform UK candidate for Clacton - said: "Who put that up there? Someone at the Columbine Centre needs to get the sack."

People in the audience can be heard chanting "rip it down", before two men are seen trying to remove the banner before walking off stage when they appear unable to budge it.

In the video, Led By Donkeys noted Mr Farage's comments from 2014, where he told GQ magazine Mr Putin was the world leader he most admired. He added at the time he does not approve of him politically or "as a human being".

After Mr Farage's remarks on Russia in a recent TV interview, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Reform UK leader's comments were "completely wrong" and they "only play into Putin's hands".

The stunt came as Reform UK withdrew support from three of its parliamentary candidates over alleged comments made by them, with the racism row engulfing the party continuing to grow.

Channel 4 News aired footage filmed undercover that showed Andrew Parker, an activist canvassing for Mr Farage, using the racial slur "P***" to describe the prime minister, describing Islam as a "disgusting cult", and saying the army should "just shoot" migrants crossing the Channel.

Reform UK was condemned by party leaders across the political spectrum, and Mr Sunak reacted furiously to the comments, saying Mr Farage had "some questions to answer".

The candidates for the Clacton constituency are:

Matthew Bensilum, Liberal Democrats

Jovan Owusu-Nepaul, Labour

Craig Jamieson, Climate Party

Tony Mack, Independent

Natasha Osben, Green Party

Tasos Papanastasiou, Heritage Party

Nigel Farage, Reform UK

Andrew Pemberton, UKIP - NO to Illegal Immigration

Giles Francis Watling, Conservative Party