Robert Kilroy-Silk

Robert Michael Kilroy-Silk (born Robert Michael Silk; 19 May 1942) is an English former politician and broadcaster. After a decade as a university lecturer, he served as a Labour Party Member of Parliament (MP) from 1974 to 1986. He left the House of Commons in 1986 in order to present a new daytime talk show, Kilroy, which ran until 2004. He returned to politics serving as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from 2004 to 2009 and had a profound role in the mainstreaming of Eurosceptic politics in the UK[1] and has been dubbed 'The Godfather of Brexit'.[2]

Robert Kilroy-Silk
Member of the European Parliament
for the East Midlands
In office
10 June 2004 – 4 June 2009
Preceded byNick Clegg
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Member of Parliament
for Knowsley North
In office
9 June 1983 – 1 October 1986
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byGeorge Howarth
Member of Parliament
for Ormskirk
In office
28 February 1974 – 9 June 1983
Preceded byHarold Soref
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Personal details
Born (1942-05-19) 19 May 1942 (age 78)
Birmingham, Warwickshire, England
Political partyIndependent
Other political
Labour (1974–1986)
UKIP (2004–05)
Veritas (2005)
Jan Beech
(m. 1963)
Alma materLondon School of Economics
OccupationTelevision presenter

Early lifeEdit

Kilroy-Silk was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, the son of William Silk, a Royal Navy leading stoker, and his wife Minnie Rose (née Rooke). William Silk was a RN stoker lost at sea when aged 22, serving on HMS Charybdis, which was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Brittany by German torpedo-destroyers on 23 October 1943.[3] His son was 17 months old.

Robert's mother Rose remarried in 1946, to family friend John Francis Kilroy, a car worker at the Rootes plant in Warwickshire. He adopted the young boy and gave him the first part of his surname; Robert became known as Kilroy-Silk.

Kilroy-Silk failed his eleven-plus in 1953; however, he later passed the review and was educated at Saltley Grammar School, Saltley, Birmingham. He attended the London School of Economics to study politics and economics.[4]

Marriage and early careerEdit

In 1963, Kilroy-Silk married Jan Beech, daughter of a shop steward. They have a son, a daughter and five grandchildren.[citation needed]

After graduating from college, he became a lecturer in politics at the University of Liverpool, serving from 1966 to 1974.[5] He published a theoretical work, Socialism since Marx, in 1972.[2]

Political careerEdit

Labour MPEdit

At the February 1974 general election, Kilroy-Silk was elected as a Labour MP for the Ormskirk constituency in Lancashire. He remained its MP until its abolition at the 1983 general election, when he was elected to represent the new Knowsley North seat; he held this until his resignation from the House of Commons in 1986. In an article for The Times in 1975, Kilroy-Silk argued that politics was not "compromises and bargains" or hankering after "a spurious consensus". He wrote that the function of government, particularly a Labour government, was

"to impose its values on society. Its role is creative: to cast, so far as it is able, society in its image". Furthermore, socialists should not be worried about being accused of dictatorial powers; they must go forward with "a tint of arrogance".[6]

The next year he was quoted as saying, "the Labour Party must always be a class party, for it is a class war we are fighting".[7]

Kilroy-Silk was appointed Shadow Home Affairs spokesman, but resigned in 1985. In resigning his seat, he said that he had been assaulted by members of the Militant group and was reported to have had a scuffle with left-wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn.[8] He wrote a book about his experiences, entitled Hard Labour, and subsequently left the Labour Party.

Eurosceptic PoliticsEdit

Joining UKIPEdit

In 2004, Kilroy-Silk was recruited to the UK Independence Party (UKIP). During that year's European Parliament election campaign he presented one of the party political broadcasts. His recruitment and celebrity significantly raised the profile of the party,[2][1] further helped by his enlisting of actress Joan Collins who attended a UKIP press conference at Kilroy-Silk's invitation.

Election to the European ParliamentEdit

Kilroy-Silk stood on the UKIP list for the East Midlands constituency and was elected as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) in the second seat for his region.The election used a closed list form of proportional representation; UKIP scored 26.05 per cent of the vote in that region, just behind the Conservatives with 26.39 per cent.

UKIP LeadershipEdit

In the 2004 Hartlepool by-election, UKIP came third, ahead of the Conservative Party. The next day, in an interview on Breakfast with Frost (BBC), Kilroy-Silk expressed ambition to lead UKIP and criticised the party's leader Roger Knapman.

Following this, businessman and friend Paul Sykes announced his intention to cease his partial funding of UKIP and to return his support to the Conservatives, as he feared that the Euro-sceptic vote might be split. The branch chairmen of UKIP were canvassed on their opinion regarding Kilroy-Silk's challenge for the party leadership. Only a minority (13%) were sympathetic to him; Kilroy-Silk did not think this was significant, as he believed that too few party members had been consulted. Party officials threatened him with disciplinary action if he continued his challenge.[citation needed]

On 27 October 2004, Kilroy-Silk officially announced that he had withdrawn from the UKIP whip in the European Parliament, branding the party "incompetent". But, he said that he would remain as an independent member of UKIP, and would continue to challenge for the leadership.

UKIP's constitution states that 70 days' notice is required before a leadership ballot can take place. With the next general election in the UK expected in spring 2005, Kilroy-Silk pushed for an emergency general meeting of the party as early as possible. On 3 November 2004, Kilroy-Silk said he intended to be leader by Christmas, though this would have been impossible under the rules.[citation needed]

On 20 January 2005, Kilroy-Silk announced that he had left UKIP; he had been a member for nine months.


On 30 January 2005, Kilroy-Silk launched of a new political party Veritas promising to take the fight to the “supercilious metropolitan elite”.[2] Damian Hockney, UKIP's leader in the London Assembly, had defected to Veritas, becoming its first Deputy Leader.

UKIP members and some journalists dubbed Kilroy-Silk's new party "Vanitas", meaning a party acting as a vehicle for its founder's vanity.[9]

The party was formally launched on 2 February 2005 at Hinckley Golf Club in Hinckley, Leicestershire. In the 2005 general election, Kilroy-Silk contested the seat of Erewash, but came in fourth, barely saving his deposit. He tried to press charges against a man who he claimed "smashed a bottle of water against the side of his head" while the politician was being interviewed by a European television crew outside a supermarket. The alleged assailant said he had squirted Kilroy-Silk with water from a plastic bottle before running away; this account was confirmed by the TV crew, which also filmed the incident. The police decided not to prosecute.

On 12 July 2005, party member Ken Wharton announced his intention to challenge Kilroy-Silk for the leadership, claiming party members were "not being looked after". Discontented party members set up the Veritas Members' Association to "put the truth back into Veritas".[10]

On 29 July 2005, Veritas announced the resignation of Kilroy-Silk as party leader.[11] In his resignation statement, he said:

"It was clear from the general election result – and more recently that of the Cheadle by-election – that the electors are content with the old parties and that it would be virtually impossible for a new party to make a significant impact given the nature of our electoral system. We tried and failed."[11]

In August 2005, four of the MEPs for the East Midlands region (Clark, Heaton-Harris, Helmer and Whitehead) sent a joint letter to President of the European Parliament Josep Borrell complaining about Kilroy-Silk:

"He seems to have done little or no work as a constituency MEP for the East Midlands. This leaves five MEPs to do the work of six and the electorate have been short-changed". They went on to complain that Kilroy-Silk was not "fulfilling the pledge he made on becoming an MEP, to serve the electorate of his region" and to call for him to "either do the job for which he is paid, or get out and leave it to those who can."[12]

The European Parliament does not have any power to expel a member, and Borrell took no action.[citation needed]

Political Affiliation while an MEPEdit

Kilroy-Silk, who was elected to the European Parliament on the UKIP list, remained a member of the Veritas Party, but sat as an Independent MEP. Some Veritas members were reported questioning why he was allowed to continue as a party member.[citation needed]

Kilroy-Silk's name was absent from the list of candidates published on 7 May 2009 for the 2009 European Parliament election. His membership was terminated when the European Parliament reconvened on 17 July 2009.[13]



In 1992, Kilroy made a comment regarding Ireland in his Daily Express column, under the guise of attacking Ray MacSharry, a former Irish government minister and EU commissioner. He described Ireland as a "country peopled by priests, peasants and pixies". The Daily Express apologised to MacSharry and the Irish people in general as a result.[citation needed]


The BBC cancelled the Kilroy show in January 2004 after an opinion article, entitled "We owe Arabs nothing", by Kilroy-Silk was published in the Sunday Express on 4 January 2004.[14][15] The article had first been published in April 2003 by the same paper and 'republished in error' according to Kilroy-Silk.[16] It did not attract much national attention when first published. According to Faisal Bodi, a columnist for The Guardian, the reaction at its second publication was a measure of "the increasing organisation of the Muslim community". Bodi added:

Kilroy-Silk's suspension was precipitated by a flurry of web messages and emails circulated by various Muslim organisations notifying people of the outrage. The circulars from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Islamic Human Rights Commission and the Islamic Affairs Central Network, to mention a few, were focused, informative and, above all, empowering. They contained a chronology of Kilroyisms, names and contacts of editors at the BBC and the Sunday Express, and instructions on how to make complaints. In the end, the BBC was left with little choice.[17]

The article was strongly criticised by the Commission for Racial Equality, whose head, Trevor Phillips, said that the affair could have a "hugely unhelpful" effect. Bodi wrote that Kilroy-Silk should be prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred. He noted that Kilroy-Silk had also written statements critical of Muslims in 1989, during the Salman Rushdie affair, and in a 1995 article in the Daily Express.[17]

By contrast, Ibrahim Nawar, the head of Arab Press Freedom Watch, came out in support of Kilroy-Silk in a Daily Telegraph article. He said the politician was "an advocate of freedom of expression" and that he agreed with much of what Kilroy-Silk had said about Arab regimes.[18]

A spokeswoman for Kilroy-Silk told The Observer, "He is not a racist at all – he employs a black driver", a quote which is sometimes incorrectly attributed to Kilroy-Silk.[19]



His talk show Kilroy started on 24 November 1986 as Day To Day; it ran until 2004. It was cancelled by the BBC in reaction to the publication of an article by Kilroy-Silk entitled "We owe Arabs nothing" which was published in the Sunday Express on 4 January 2004. This provoked considerable controversy.[14][failed verification]


In 2001, Kilroy-Silk hosted a television programme on ITV1 called Shafted. It was a quiz-show and at the end of the show, Kilroy-Silk would ask players whether they wished to "share" or to "shaft", with accompanying hand gestures.[citation needed]

The show was cancelled after four episodes. The Penguin TV Companion (2006) ranked it as the worst British television show of the 2000s.[20]

Have I Got News for YouEdit

Kilroy-Silk appeared as a guest on Have I Got News for You on 30 April 2004. There was a heated exchange between him and his teammate Paul Merton.[citation needed]

Other television appearancesEdit

On 31 January 2005, a television programme, Kilroy: Behind the Tan, was broadcast on the BBC. Created in documentary style, it followed the politician from his election as an MEP for UKIP to his leaving the party.[citation needed]

In early February 2005, Kilroy-Silk worked on a Channel 4 television programme called Kilroy and the Gypsies. He spent a week living with a family of Romany Gypsies at a campsite in Bedfordshire to explore their lives. He also interviewed residents of surrounding villages.[21]

In other appearances, he was the first contestant to be voted out of the 2008 edition of I'm a Celebrity....Get Me Out of Here!.[22] On 7 November 2009, he appeared as a panellist on the BBC's Question Time programme. In 2011, he appeared on Loose Women.[citation needed]

In November 2008, Kilroy-Silk was criticised by Derek Clark MEP. He complained that Kilroy-Silk was taking his parliamentary wage while being paid to appear in the reality TV show I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!.[23] He thought the TV show represented a conflict of interest.[23]


  1. ^ a b Maley, Jonathan (29 June 2013). "Farage: Robert Kilroy-Silk:went crackers". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Maguire, Patrick (18 September 2019). "Robert Kilroy-Silk: the godfather of Brexit". New Statesman. Retrieved 22 September 2019.
  3. ^ [1] CWGC Casualty Record. The CWGC records his wife as Rose Minnie Silk.
  4. ^ Caldwell, Christopher (9 January 2005). "The Anti Europeanist". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  5. ^ Valelly, Paul (5 June 2004). "Robert Kilroy-Silk; the self-styled saviour of Britain". The Independent. Retrieved 2 February 2009.
  6. ^ Robert Kilroy-Silk, "Labour must not be frightened of making socialism work", The Times, 29 April 1975.
  7. ^ Comrie-Thomson, Paul; Coombe, Ian (8 November 2010). "The UK in the 1970s". Counterpoint. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Robert Chalmers "Robert Kilroy-Silk: Here Comes Trouble", Independent on Sunday, 6 June 2004. Archived 21 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Tempest, Matthew; agencies (17 January 2005). "Kilroy asked to leave Ukip". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
  10. ^ "Kilroy faces leadership challenge". BBC News. 12 July 2005. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  11. ^ a b "Kilroy quits as leader of Veritas". BBC News. 29 July 2005. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  12. ^ Stares, Justin. Kilroy-Silk does 'little or no work' and should quit, say MEPs, The Telegraph, 13 August 2005. Quote: "A cross-party coalition has called for Robert Kilroy-Silk to quit the European Parliament on the grounds that he seldom attends and does "little or no work" for his East Midlands constituency. [...] His four regional colleagues – Christopher Heaton-Harris (Conservative), Roger Helmer (Conservative), Phillip Whitehead (Labour) and Derek Clark (Ukip) – said they "deplore" Mr Kilroy-Silk's non-attendance. "He seems to have done little or no work as a constituency MEP for the East Midlands. This leaves five MEPs to do the work of six and the electorate have been short-changed," they wrote. "Mr Kilroy-Silk should either do the job for which he is paid, or get out and leave it to those who can." The parliament has no power to remove Mr Kilroy-Silk, who is understood to have attended the minimum number of plenary sessions required to be eligible for his parliamentary allowances.
  13. ^ "Kilroy-Silk to leave European Parliament" Archived 10 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine, This Is Nottingham
  14. ^ a b Robert Kilroy-Silk, "We owe Arabs nothing" Archived 26 December 2004 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Sunday Express 4 January 2004 page 25, We owe Arabs nothing
  16. ^ "Kilroy defends Arab states attack". BBC News. 11 January 2004. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  17. ^ a b Bodi, Faisal (12 January 2004). "Islamophobia should be as unacceptable as racism". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  18. ^ Nawar, Ibrahim (11 January 2004). "Kilroy-Silk is right about the Middle East, say Arabs". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  19. ^ Smith, David (11 January 2004). "One keystroke that rocked Kilroy-Silk". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  20. ^ "Racist stereotypes 'make the worst TV'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 12 December 2007.
  21. ^ Honigsbaum, Mark (12 February 2005). "Political caravan no easy ride for Kilroy-Silk". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  22. ^ Busk-Cowley, Mark (2014). I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!: The Inside Story. Bantam Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0593073483.
  23. ^ a b Mason, Chris (15 November 2008). "MEPs attack jungle-bound Kilroy". BBC News. Retrieved 4 May 2009.

External linksEdit

European Parliament
Preceded by
Member of European Parliament for East Midlands
Succeeded by
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Harold Soref
Member of Parliament for Ormskirk
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Knowsley North
Succeeded by
George Howarth
Party political offices
New political party Leader of Veritas
Succeeded by
Patrick Eston