Pakistan warns Grieve's "divisive" remarks may damage bilateral relations

The country's High Commission attacks the Attorney General's comments on ethnic "corruption".

A clue to Dominic Grieve sudden U-turn yesterday has emerged as The High Commission for Pakistan warns UK that his comments regarding Britain’s Pakistani community are "offensive and divisive", "may have repercussions on Pakistan-UK bilateral relations, and damage Pakistani Community’s support to the Conservative Party." Slamming the remarks as "immature" and "bizarre" – language not normally used by diplomats – Pakistan is making clear the high degree of anger felt by the regime.

Grieve had said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that some immigrants - particularly British Pakistanis - "come from backgrounds where corruption is endemic", "have been brought up to believe you can only get certain things through a favour culture", and are "mainly responsible for electoral corruption."

In a statement, the Pakistan High Commission said: "The High Commission for Pakistan brands the views of Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP as offensive and divisive which may have repercussions on Pakistan-UK bilateral relations and Pakistan Community’s support to the Conservative Party.

"This is with reference to an interview by Attorney General Dominic Grieve MP to the Telegraph published on 22 November 2013 in which he labelled the Pakistani community living in the UK as 'corrupt' and that they support a 'favour culture.'

"The High Commission for Pakistan to the UK finds these remarks by Mr. Grieve MP as offensive and unfounded towards the strong Pakistani Diaspora in the UK. These remarks are contrary to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s repeated appreciation of the constructive role played by Pakistani Diaspora in the economy, culture, politics and society of the UK.

"The Pakistani Diaspora in UK is deeply disturbed by these unfounded and offensive comments made against them. Ever since the publication of this interview, the High Commission has been approached by thousands of Diaspora members who have expressed their disgust towards Dominic Grieve’s remarks.

"Bizarrely, Mr. Grieve’s immature remarks are based on one incident of electoral fraud which was dealt by British Court’s soon after it happened. It is extremely convenient to pass judgements on singular incidents, but it is important to emphasize that the Diaspora may also make their judgement about the Conservative Party and British government on this singular but divisive comment by the British Attorney General.

"It is important to emphasize that Pakistan-UK relations, which had taken on a constructive and meaningful path with the signing of the Enhanced Strategic Dialogue may be affected by such remarks from senior MPs of the British government.

"Pakistan does not accept such unfounded allegations against its own People and maintains that it is against the spirit of friendship. It condemns these views in the strongest possible terms.

"Pakistan does not accept such unfounded allegations against its own People and maintains that it is against the spirit of friendship. It condemns these views in the strongest possible terms."

It is not the first time Tories have sparked a furious diplomatic row between London and Islamabad. Soon after becoming prime minister in July 2010, David Cameron accused divisions of the Pakistani state of exporting terror and "looking both ways" by tolerating terrorism yet demanding respect as a democracy. At the time, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's high commissioner, commented: "One would have wished that the prime minister would have considered Pakistan's enormous role in the war on terror and the sacrifices it has rendered since 9/11.”

As recently as June this year, Cameron pledged to "stand together" with Pakistan in the fight against terrorism following consultations with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He said the relationship would increase opportunities for trade and investment. Islamabad has repeatedly made efforts to demonstrate bi-lateral cooperation not just against terrorism, but also in trade and finance. Earlier this year, the Pakistani high commissioner opened trading on the London markets at London Stock Exchange to mark the second Pakistan Capital Markets Day.

The latest announcement from Pakistan’s diplomats, however, suggests Dominic Grieve’s "apology" may not, on its own, be enough to get the relationship back on track.  

Imran Khan was a Conservative councillor (2008-12). He campaigns on citizenship issues.

Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif speaks with Indian external affairs minister Salman Kurshid before a working session at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Photograph: Getty Images.
Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Emily Thornberry heckled by Labour MPs as tensions over Trident erupt

Shadow defence secretary's performance at PLP meeting described as "risible" and "cringeworthy". 

"There's no point trying to shout me down" shadow defence secretary Emily Thornberry declared midway through tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. Even by recent standards, the 70-minute gathering was remarkably fractious (with PLP chair John Cryer at one point threatening to halt it). Addressing MPs and peers for the first time since replacing Maria Eagle, Thornberry's performance did nothing to reassure Trident supporters. 

The Islington South MP, who voted against renewal in 2007, said that the defence review would be "wide-ranging" and did not take a position on the nuclear question (though she emphasised it was right to "question" renewal). She vowed to listen to colleagues as well as taking "expert advice" and promised to soon visit the Barrow construction site. But MPs' anger was remorseless. Former shadow defence minister Kevan Jones was one of the first to emerge from Committee Room 14. "Waffly and incoherent, cringeworthy" was his verdict. Another Labour MP told me: "Risible. Appalling. She compared Trident to patrolling the skies with spitfires ... It was embarrassing." A party source said afterwards that Thornberry's "spitfire" remark was merely an observation on changing technology. 

"She was talking originally in that whole section about drones. She'd been talking to some people about drones and it was apparent that it was absolutely possible, with improving technology, that large submarines could easily be tracked, detected and attacked by drones. She said it is a question of keeping your eye on new technology ... We don't have the spitfires of the 21st century but we do have some quite old planes, Tornadoes, but they've been updated with modern technology and modern weaponry." 

Former first sea lord and security minister Alan West complained, however, that she had failed to understand how nuclear submarines worked. "Physics, basic physics!" he cried as he left. Asked how the meeting went, Neil Kinnock, who as leader reversed Labour's unilateralist position in 1989, simply let out a belly laugh. Thornberry herself stoically insisted that it went "alright". But a shadow minister told me: "Emily just evidently hadn't put in the work required to be able to credibly address the PLP - totally humiliated. Not by the noise of the hecklers but by the silence of any defenders, no one speaking up for her." 

Labour has long awaited the Europe split currently unfolding among the Tories. But its divide on Trident is far worse. The majority of its MPs are opposed to unilateral disarmament and just seven of the shadow cabinet's 31 members share Jeremy Corbyn's position. While Labour MPs will be given a free vote when the Commons votes on Trident renewal later this year (a fait accompli), the real battle is to determine the party's manifesto stance. 

Thornberry will tomorrow address the shadow cabinet and, for the first time this year, Corbyn will attend the next PLP meeting on 22 February. Both will have to contend with a divide which appears unbridgeable. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.