Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party has been rather quiet when it comes to fighting for Britain to remain in the EU. Happily, Chris Bryant got the chance to put the pro-EU argument forward at last night’s Great Brexit debate, organised by the University of London Brexit Society. Sitting on a panel alongside SNP MP Stephen Gethins, Bryant did his best to convince the pro-Brexit speakers — who included Jacob Rees Mogg and Peter Lilley — and audience members why they ought to reconsider their position.
To highlight the ‘confusion’ surrounding the referendum, Bryant kicked things off with an anecdote about a former Labour leader who has gone out of fashion of late. ‘I’m going to talk about Tony Blair, I think we’re still allowed to speak about him,’ the shadow Leader of the House of Commons joked. He then recalled an incident from Blair’s time as Prime Minister, when he opted to give a speech in French on a visit to the country:
‘He did his speech, it all went very well. All the French ministers said he was the best Prime Minister ever because he’d done all the speech in French. They don’t say that now but they said that then.
So, he got over-excited and said he would come back next time and do the press conference in French, which would obviously be more difficult because he’d have to listen to the questions in French and understand it without simultaneous translation, and reply without Alastair Campbell telling him what to say.’
As expected, the press conference proved to be problematic. Blair was asked what he thought of the left wing French politician Lionel Jospin. He attempted to reply that he admired Jospin in many ways, but instead said something entirely different:
‘Tony Blair intended to say: “I admire Lionel Jospin in many ways” but unfortunately he said in French: “I desire Lionel Jospin in many different positions”.’
Bryant claims that the incident shows there can be a lot of ‘confusion’ and ‘tosh’ when it comes to Europe:
‘So, I’m just conscious that in the whole debate about Europe there can be a great deal of confusion and we started with an awful load of tosh tonight.’
In order to clear up this ‘confusion’, Bryant went on to declare that Britain would be safer in the EU and that the UK has the fifth largest economy because it is in the EU — rather than in spite of its membership:
‘There’s the danger of being locked out of making decisions that effect British businesses day in, day out. I want Britain to sit at the table.’
While some Labour MPs will no doubt be cheered that Bryant is at least putting pro-EU arguments out there, Mr S suspects that next time he had best avoid mentioning the B-word if he wishes for Corbyn to approve of his efforts.