STRASBOURG (Reuters) - Members of Britain's Brexit Party turned their backs on the EU anthem on Tuesday as it was played live at the opening of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, in a move that other lawmakers branded disgraceful and pathetic.
The party launched by prominent Brexiteer Nigel Farage in April won 29 seats in the assembly the following month, more than any other party in Britain, as it rode a wave of public anger over Prime Minister Theresa May's failure to deliver the country's departure from the bloc on schedule.
Seated in the back rows of the assembly, its parliamentarians turned their backs as musicians played the "Ode to Joy" from Ludwig Van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
The symphony was commissioned by the Philharmonic Society of London and first performed in Britain in 1825.
Illustrating the extent of the divide in British public opinion over Brexit, MEPs from the UK's Liberal Democrat party attended the session, the first since the May election, wearing yellow t-shirts marked with the words "Stop Brexit."
The Liberal Democrats won 16 seats after campaigning for Britain to remain in the bloc.
"Let's make sure we leave this bureaucratic nightmare as soon as possible!" the Brexit Party tweeted on its official account.
"Just had to endure the EU's attempt at a supranational anthem. You will be pleased to know that we turned our backs for the duration. The EU is not a state. It should not have an anthem," tweeted Brexit MEP Ben Habib.
Other lawmakers criticised the gesture as disrespectful.
"Nigel Farage and his band of Brexit company MEPs think they're being clever by standing with their backs to the chair at the opening session of the European Parliament. Looks pathetic and not impressed anyone," tweeted Richard Corbett, an MEP for Labour.
Ska Keller, a German politician and member of the European Greens called their behaviour disgraceful.
"They've been standing ...to represent citizens inside ...the European Parliament, and then the first thing they do is totally disrespect the basics of the European Union, its values and the house in which they wanted to represent citizens."
(Reporting by Reuters Television; writing by Alexandra Hudson; editing by John Stonestreet; Writing by Alexandra Hudson)