Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has been accused of using the Queen’s funeral as a political soapbox after he flew into London to deliver a speech to supporters about the dangers of leftists, abortion and “gender ideology”.
Speaking from the balcony of the Brazilian ambassador’s 19th-century Mayfair home on Sunday, the South American populist voiced “profound respect” for the royal family and UK citizens and claimed that honouring Queen Elizabeth II was the “main objective” of his visit to London.
But Bolsonaro – who looks poised to lose next month’s presidential election in Brazil – then switched immediately into campaign mode, despite the moment of mourning.
“We’re on the right path,” Brazil’s president told hundreds of yellow-clad supporters who had rallied outside the building – less than two miles from Westminster Hall where the Queen was lying in state.
“We are a country that does not want to discuss the legalisation of drugs, that does not want to discuss the legalisation of abortion and a country that does not accept gender ideology,” Bolsonaro went on. “Our slogan is: God, homeland, family and freedom.”
Bolsonaro’s politically charged comments delighted the hardcore supporters who had come to hear him in central London but sparked anger in the UK and Brazil.
“It’s a funeral, dude,” tweeted Vera Magalhães, a prominent Brazilian journalist who was recently verbally attacked by Bolsonaro during a televised presidential debate.
“Bolsonaro has turned the Queen’s funeral into an election soapbox,” complained Joice Hasselmann, a rightwing politician and former Bolsonaro ally.
Paulo Abrāo, a human rights expert and law professor, condemned Bolsonaro’s “insensitive” intervention at a time of national mourning. “Yet another international disgrace,” he wrote.
Friends and relatives of the British journalist and Guardian contributor Dom Phillips, who was murdered in the Amazon in June with the Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, also gathered outside the ambassador’s residence to voice their outrage at Bolsonaro’s presence.
“Personally, I feel that he is not welcome on British soil … [and] he is not welcome at the Queen’s funeral,” said Clare Handford, a documentary-maker who was a close friend of Phillips.
“He is responsible for the destruction of the Amazon forest and the desecration of Indigenous people … and he must be opposed,” Handford added.
Dom Phillips’s niece, Domonique Davies, was also at the anti-Bolsonaro demo, organised by a group called Brazil Matters, where protesters held banners denouncing the Brazilian president. The small group had to be protected by police as Bolsonaro’s supporters harangued them.
“We were there to object to his presence in the UK and to show solidarity for Dom and Bruno but also for all the Indigenous people and others who have been murdered in the Amazon,” Davies said.
Reports in the Brazilian media claimed Bolsonaro’s team saw the Queen’s funeral as a golden opportunity to boost his flagging re-election campaign by rubbing shoulders with world leaders who have largely shunned him since he came to power in 2019.
“Sources close to the president say [the decision to attend] was influenced by the opportunity to record footage for his campaign propaganda,” the conservative Estado de São Paulo reported last week.
One presidential aide told Brazil’s O Globo newspaper that Bolsonaro saw the funeral as a chance to outdo his leftist rival, the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is leading the race to become Brazil’s next leader.
In his balcony address, Bolsonaro claimed he was on track for victory on 2 October. “There’s no way we aren’t going to win in the first round,” he said to loud cheers and wolf whistles.
However, polls suggest Lula – who boasts a lead of between 12 and 15 points – will prevail when 156 million Brazilians vote.
Sensacionalista, a satirical Brazilian Twitter account, tweeted: “Bolsonaro goes to London to the funeral of his own candidacy.”
Criticism of Bolsonaro’s declaration – in which he spoke for about 13 seconds about the Queen and almost two minutes about his campaign agenda – appeared to touch a nerve among the president’s team.
“Sad that you have forgotten that president Bolsonaro opened his speech to the incredible audience that awaited him – it’s this that should have made the news in any serious newspaper – talking precisely about the death of Queen Elizabeth II,” his son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, tweeted at the Guardian. “You bury yourselves on our own, without credibility.”