I condemn both anthem stunt and obscene T-shirt protest
PUBLISHED: 20:37 04 July 2019 | UPDATED: 20:37 04 July 2019
Columnist Iain Dale says Monday's protest in the European parliament was a child-like embarrassment
If ever I start to say something or do something slightly controversial, I still think about what my mother would say if she found out. My mother died seven years ago, but that thought often stops me getting into a scrape. It doesn't always work, of course, as observers of things I have said and done in recent years will no doubt point out. But I tell you two things I would never have done. I would firstly never have deliberately insulted members of a foreign parliament by turning my back on my elected colleagues when its anthem was played. Secondly, I would never have worn a T-shirt in that very same parliament with the words 'Bollocks to Brexit' on it.
On Monday that's what this country's Brexit Party and Liberal Democrat MEPs did. Fifty-four out of our 73 newly elected European parliamentarians embarrassed our county by their ridiculously childish antics.
Each evening on LBC I take over the broadcasting reins from Nigel Farage at 7pm. On Monday he was broadcasting his show live from Strasbourg, but I didn't hesitate to rip into him in the handover. I am a huge admirer of Nigel Farage and I voted for the Brexit Party in the European elections, but I felt let down by their antics on Monday and told him so in no uncertain terms.
Apparently, this was not a planned protest. The Brexit Party MPs had remained seated for the anthem, but the Italian president of the parliament gently pointed out that it was polite to stand for a country's anthem. They all got up, Nigel turned his back, and the rest, like sheep, followed suit. Their argument that the EU is not a country and therefore shouldn't have an anthem has some validity, but apparently other trade blocs also have anthems. Of course, what they could have done is just walk out. Instead, their insulting behaviour both embarrassed them and their nation.
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Brexit Party MEPs are generally a very impressive bunch. They don't fit the stereotype of their Ukip predecessors who were generally a few sandwiches short of a picnic. These are serious people, with serious track records and achievements behind them. My good friend Ann Widdecombe is one of them. I was astonished that she joined in with this ridiculous charade. I was equally astonished to hear her on LBC that very afternoon laying into the Liberal Democrats for their yellow T-shirt protest.
The only way you can be consistent here is to either accept that both the Lib Dems and the Brexit Party had every right to launch their respective protests, or you have to condemn each of them in equal measure. If you approve of one but not the other, just because of your own views on Brexit, there is one word which sums you up. You're a hypocrite.
The Lib Dem T-shirt protest went against the parliament's dress code, which demands people dress respectfully at all times. Had the T-shirts just had the 'Stop Brexit' slogan on the front, it would have been fair enough, but to include the word 'bollocks' on the back was just childish and insulting - especially to the 17.4million people who voted Leave. It showed a contempt for democracy, which may come back to bite the Lib Dems on their (judging by one of the pictures) very ample backsides.
Britain has always been an outward-looking nation, yet critics of the Brexit project delight in painting Brexit supporters as insular-looking xenophobes who wish to retreat into an imperial past. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but antics like those perpetrated by Brexit Party MEPs play into this ridiculous narrative. If we're going to be a truly Global Britain we need to build bridges with everyone, not pull up the drawbridge and pretend we're in some way superior to the very people we wish to extend our trade links with.
Both of these protests shamed our country. Those who took part in them should grow up.
Email Iain at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @iaindale