Journalists like writing about rows among politicians who, on the whole, strive to avoid giving them the opportunity to do so, partly for the same reason. As a journalist, I am therefore grateful to Charles Tannock for saying that Syed Kamall, his London MEP colleague, should resign as President of the European Conservative and Reformist Group in the European Parliament. As a former politician, however, I can’t help thinking that he should have kept schtum, and raised the matter privately within the ECR group instead.
Tannock argues that, since Kamall has now come out for Brexit, he “will now not be taken seriously by the other political group leaders in the European Parliament, thus weakening his hand to promote our agenda.” Maybe, though who knows what the consequences could be for Tannock – or for you and I and everyone else, dear reader – once one begins to tot up reasons why each of us might not be taken seriously. He also says that “all the other ECR national delegations would be very concerned by a Brexit outcome and none support their own countries leaving the EU”. This appears to concede that the ECR group itself has no corporate view on Britain’s membership of the European Union and that, therefore, Kamall’s views on Brexit are no automatic obstacle to him leading it.
At any rate, ECR members can now argue the matter out among themselves, and I can write a little more about Kamall, who for better or worse I didn’t support during his bid for the London Mayoralty. My thinking was that his country needed him in the European Parliament, and his EU referendum decision suggests that I may have had a point. The ECR President is an interesting figure for at least three reasons.
First, he is a politician who is a serious Muslim rather than a politician who claims to be a serious Muslim. This in itself seems to be unusual. Second, he has a real understanding, having been brought up in an ethnic minority family that hails from part of the Commonwealth, of the unfairness that EU membership brings with it to our immigration system, which automatically privileges those entering Britain from EU countries above those entering from the Commonwealth. This has the potential to be a decisive factor in the coming referendum campaign, since ethnic minority members are still more likely, on balance, to vote Labour than Conservative, but have a solid reason for not following the former party’s official position on Brexit (or the latter’s, either).
Finally, he has a passion for the free market and for social action, two commitments that do not always run together. I hope that sooner or later he makes the transition from Brussels to Westminster. But not yet. There is work for him to do as a former leader of the Conservative Group in the European Parliament and, yes, as President of the ECR Group, in which post I hope he stays. Resisting the blandishments of Downing Street over his Brexit views will not have been much fun, so I hope that he now has some, visibly and prominently, during the campaigning weeks ahead.