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UK Politics

Sketch: Euro-rage succeeds where quip falls flat


Prime Ministerial apology alert! It was only four short words. But it showed justified remorse for what must be – despite the stiff competition – the most terrible dispatch box joke during this Parliament.

The Tory Anne McIntosh had asked him to urge his new best friend Premier Li Keqiang to “unlock” the barrier to UK exports to China of pig’s feet, which she optimistically suggested would “ensure the long-term economic growth of north Yorkshire”.

Promising to do so, Cameron pointed out he had already smoothed the way to exports of “pig semen”, and then claimed to recall that the press release at the time referred to the “Pig Society”. Pig–Big. Get it? Many MPs didn’t, and seeing that he had “died”, as they say in stand-up, he added in rueful self-deprecation: “Sorry about that one.”

Admittedly, it was not much of a day for jokes of any kind, rightly dominated as it was by Iraq. When the venerable Tory Sir Peter Tapsell made the startling suggestion that in the absence of the long-awaited Chilcot report impeachment proceedings should start against Tony Blair, Cameron said sharply that the inquiry might have begun – and finished – much earlier if Labour, including Ed Miliband, had not initially voted four times against having it while in government.

But when it came to the Miliband/Cameron exchanges on what was happening now, the two leaders were serious, bipartisan and eloquent, while failing to lift the sense that no one in the West has much idea of how to prevent Iraq being dragged deeper into mass sectarian violence.

On Europe, however, thrilled Tory backbenchers roared with approval at Cameron’s Thatcher-like promise to “fight… right to the very end” for the right of European leaders – and not the European Parliament which wants Jean-Claude Juncker – to pick the European Commission President. 

One such Tory, Sir William Cash, revealed details of an Athens weekend conference he had attended of “the national chairmen of the European Select Committees [and]… chairmen of the European parliamentary committees”.

Once at this unmissable, if presumably not ouzo-fuelled, jamboree the Brits had seen off an (admittedly fairly breathtaking) attempt to classify “Euroscepticism” as “equivalent to xenophobia and racism”. And secured the agreement of the conference that the procedure by which the dreaded Luxembourger looked like being elected was “unprecedented, unacceptable and unsuccessful”.

Earlier, Sir John Major had described Juncker as having been a “very fine Prime Minister of Luxembourg” – a brilliantly condescending put-down.

But at least he pronounced him correctly. Sir William showed the depth of his disdain for the prime candidate by calling him “Junker” –as in “junk” – instead of the more normal “Yoonker”.

“Junker” maybe, but despite the British PM’s best efforts, not junked.