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14 May 2017

Emily Thornberry tells Michael Fallon the Tories are talking “bollocks“ on foreign policy

Come for the Thornberry shade, stay for the swearing.

By Media Mole

The sofa chat on the Andrew Marr show is usually a couple of minutes of lighthearted banter before a 5-piece folk band plays a song about puffins and the politicians have to smile politely, looking as though they understand the concept of rhythm. 

But this morning it was rather more interesting. Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry must have been anticipating a tough time, and was clearly braced for both Marr and Conservative politician Michael Fallon to bring up Jeremy Corbyn’s meetings with IRA sympathisers in the 1980s.

So she decided that the best form of defence was attack – pointing out that the defence secretary had attended a celebration of the re-election of Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad in 2007.

“Do you remember where you were on the 27th of May 2007?” she asked Fallon.

Fallon, demonstrating the unflappable quality that once saw him appointed “Minister for the Today programme”, did not look panicked as a normal human might. “I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” he shot back.

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Thornberry pointed out that Assad had “won” the election with 99 per cent of the vote, which suggests it might not have been all that democratic. (The opposition boycotted the election and only Baathist candidates were allowed to run.)

Fallon said that ten years ago “we had a different relationship with Assad” and that it was different to meet a foreign leader compared with Jeremy Corbyn’s “open support for the IRA”. (Corbyn has said he always wanted a “political solution” in Ireland, and that he condemned violence by the IRA and by the British Army.)

Thornberry was unperturbed. “You can’t go around making stuff up… you’ve said, for example, that I want to negotiate the future of the Falklands. That is . . . bollocks.”

She added that Fallon could not go “slinging around dead cats” – a reference to the 2015 election, where Fallon derailed a good day for Labour talking about non-doms by accusing Ed Miliband of “stabbing his brother in the back“. (The phrase comes from Conservative election strategist Lynton Crosby, who is said to advocate throwing out a wild and unfair accusation when the argument is being lost, because – just as if you threw a dead cat on the table – people immediately start talking about that and forget the original subject.)

Who won the exchange? Hard to say. While Corbyn’s 1980s track record is worrying, it is also worth pointing out that foreign policy makes hypocrites of us all. Britain has sold more than £5bn in arms to Saudi Arabia since 2010, for example, despite long-standing accusations of human rights abuses