The antics of Jeremy Corbyn have attracted much attention in recent weeks, and rightly so. His gross misjudgement of both the mood of the House of Commons and of the country in his response to the Salisbury attack demonstrates his unfitness both for his current office and for any higher one, as the majority of reasonable and patriotic Labour MPs well know. So much for the tradition of socialism and pride in one’s country epitomised by Ernest Bevin and George Orwell.
But there is another strand to this odd aspect of our current political life. I would not compare the activities of certain Remainers to the ramblings of Mr Corbyn, but I do wonder about the little trip undertaken by Anna Soubry, Chuka Umunna and others in January to meet and talk to Michel Barnier. This excursion was supposedly done under the aegis of their “All-Party Parliamentary Group on EU Relations”.
One has to ask why such a trip took place. What was its point? Of course MPs have every right to go wherever they want to gain information and to talk to non-parliamentary bodies. But should they be hob-nobbing with what is essentially a foreign body with which the British Government is negotiating on a whole range of complicated and sensitive issues? What did Miss Soubry and Mr Umunna say at this meeting? Did they either intentionally or unintentionally undermine the British Government’s negotiating position? Did they misrepresent UK public opinion in such talks? Having had these cosy little chats do they report back to the Foreign Office or Brexit Department what is said to them, which is what many APPGs would do after such a visit and such discussions? One of the key points here is surely that Miss Soubry and Mr Umunna speak for no one.
They do not represent the Remain vote in this country, a majority of which has, according to polling, accepted the will of the people – as is our normal practice in this country after a public vote. So we have these second- or third-ranking politicians running around talking to the EU’s Chief Negotiator at a very sensitive time. Miss Soubry is not a member of the government and Mr Umunna does not even grace the Opposition front bench with his posing presence.
Their APPG has no status on the international stage. It might seem unnecessary to bring this up, were it not for the fact that certain Remain supporters are using the crisis with Russia to claim that if we were not leaving the EU we would have more clout in dealing with an international bully.
That argument could be countered by posing the question to those who indulge in private diplomacy with the EU as to whether they encourage an image of Britain abroad of a country divided and thus weakened – a picture some might allege could only encourage Putin. This is the central issue. What sort of impression on the international stage do the likes of Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna create when they go off to Brussels? If, as they would claim, they are doing this because they care passionately about this country and its people, are their methods really the best and most loyal way of serving this nation?