‘Don’t call me a traitor, Farridge’

PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 November 2017

Alastair Campbell asks Jeremy Corbyn if it's time for a new slogan. Photo: Getty

Alastair Campbell asks Jeremy Corbyn if it's time for a new slogan. Photo: Getty

2016 Getty Images

The New European’s editor-at-large on why his passionately anti-Brexit stance stems from a love of Britain

Say what you like about Nigel Farage, but old Frogface sure has chutzpah.

I mean there he is, waves from an alleged conspiracy about the funding and running of the Brexit campaign starting to lap over his tootsies, up his ankles, heading towards his knees … a conspiracy that may turn out to involve figures as sinister as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and his army of fake newsmakers and Twitter botsters … and Farridge (the real pronunciation of his name by the way) has the gall to say this about me …

‘Encouraging a foreign power to damage our interests. Years ago that would have been called treachery.’

His tweet was a response to mine, about the Irish Prime Minister’s gentle statement of the very obvious, namely that the UK Government had not thought through the consequences of Brexit. Judge for yourself whether my tweet merited the splenetic faux fury of Farridge in his.

‘Leo Varadkar far too kind in saying the UK government hasn’t thought Brexit through. They haven’t thought full stop. Play hardball Leo!!’

Daniel Hannan, self-styled ‘brain of Brexit,’ was as outraged as Farridge. ‘Opposing Brexit is fair enough. It’s cheering for the other side that grates.’ What grates with me is people claiming a monopoly on patriotism whilst doing fundamental damage to the country to which they pledge their allegiance.

‘The other side,’ to these people, is anyone who dares to question their hard-right, hard Brexit view, whether that be a proud Remainiac Brit like me, or an Irish Taoiseach with genuine grounds to worry that his own country’s future prosperity and security will be Brexit’s collateral damage.

Anything I say or do about Brexit flows not from any love of the EU. I have been at enough balls-aching European summits to be well through the romanticism on that front. No, my passion against Brexit stems from a love of Britain, and a desire to stop the country opting for its own decline and irrelevance, because of one moment in the democratic process, and one serially incompetent government in charge of that process since.

Yes, I also feel a strong attachment to Ireland, partly the Gaelic blood in me, but more significantly the amount of time and energy I expended as part of the Tony Blair team that helped deliver a new era of peace and relative prosperity through the Good Friday Agreement and all that followed.

One of the many scandals of the wretched referendum campaign was the extent to which the potential impact on the peace process, and on the economy and security of Ireland north and south, was just ignored. With Westminster politicians wilfully neglecting the issue, I urged Varadkar’s predecessor, Enda Kenny, and the leaders of IBEC, the Irish equivalent of the CBI, to make sure Ireland’s interests were heard loud and clear during the campaign.

Both feared that getting too directly involved would lead to Brits feeling they were being lectured by outsiders. Fair enough, but now that the vote has happened, and the Brexit process has begun, the Irish government has not just a right but an absolute duty to stop it from harming their own country.

Is it not remarkable that 18 months on, the great brains of Brexit have made zero progress in answering the very basic question about how you can have a frictionless border between northern and southern Ireland, whilst stopping freedom of movement from the EU, of which Ireland will continue to be a full member?

Remarkable too that these Brextremists no longer even bother to make the case that Brexit will be good for Britain, just that we have to deliver it because people voted for it.

That suggests to me that they are losing the argument, and know it. As does the Brextremist Lie Machine papers turning on anyone opposed to this madness as a mutineer or saboteur. As does Farridge labelling me a traitor for speaking up for Ireland and speaking out against the damage Brexit will do to peace in Northern Ireland which, let me remind him, is part of the UK.

It is becoming clear, as Liam Byrne argues elsewhere in the paper, that there needs to be a proper investigation into the role of Russian money and propaganda efforts in the Brexit campaign. Farridge is a long-term admirer of Vladimir Putin, a fondness he first expressed loudly in an interview I did with him for GQ three years ago. If we are having a patriotic pissing match, I would put my support for Ireland ahead of his and his fellow Brextremists’ love-in with Putin’s Russia any day of the week.

‘Encouraging a foreign power to damage our interests. Years ago that would have been called treachery.’ Indeed. Putin didn’t need any encouragement to help wrest the UK out of the EU, given his loathing of any international body that might have the desire or the clout to hold him to account. But having the help of Farridge, Bankski, Hannan, Johnson, Gove, Fox, Davis et al sure as hell came in handy as he went about his business of damaging UK and EU interests.

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Jeremy Corbyn is another who seems unwilling to say too much that might be deemed critical of Putin, or the worldwide collection of useful idiots and paid stooges Russia’s President collects around him. But if Corbyn is serious about bringing down Theresa May, perhaps he should be pressing for the Mueller-style inquiry Liam Byrne is advocating on Russian involvement in Brexit. For in addition to the possible links between Farage, Banks and the Putin regime, and any role they played in funnelling support to Trump, there are many unanswered questions about the funnelling of money from the Democratic Unionists, now keeping May on life support, to the Leave campaign. There is, at the very least, a nasty smell starting to emerge, which, with proper political pressure, could turn into the kind of stench that could break the Coalition apart. So if Corbyn really wants an election, this might be one route to it.

Time to lead Jeremy, even if it means speaking out against Brexit, and against Putin. I know Seamus Milne would be unhappy about both, but you’re the leader.

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Alex Salmond got a fair bit of stick for fronting his own TV show on Putin propaganda outlet RT (though less than Kezia Dugdale has had for going into the celebrity jungle with Boris Johnson’s Dad.) Salmond asked me to do the ‘state your case’ slot this week, and I agreed on condition I was allowed to include a whack at the Russians for interfering in Brexit. The whack duly delivered, and an interview about my determination to fight Brexit duly completed, his team seemed more concerned about my regular use of the word ‘liar’ about Johnson Junior, than anything I said about Vlad the Brexiteer. I was able to educate them in libel law – truth is a defence. Johnson is a multiple proven liar.

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Gordon Brown’s memoir is not the easiest of reads, and one of the reasons is that he fails to allow himself any real self-reflection. I did however enjoy David Miliband’s book on his work with refugees, Rescue, and the brilliant opening sentence, that the first refugees he ever met were his parents.

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