Chuka Umunna: “The EU banning prawn cocktail crisps? Absolute b*llocks”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna is at pains to explain the campaign to remain (in the EU)
Labour MP Chuka Umunna has no splinters in his bottom. When it comes to the EU referendum, he's far from the fence, putting all his considerable charm behind the Remain campaign. We asked him some probing (and some less probing) questions.
It looks close: are you worried?
I never thought it was in the bag, or close to being in the bag, for either side. I always thought it was going to be close.
Jon Snow called the debate abusive and boring. Does he know nothing?
Well he obviously wasn’t watching the general election if he thinks the EU referendum campaign is the most abusive and boring one there has been. The difference with this EU referendum campaign is that you’ve got people across different parties coming together to make an argument in the national interest. The debates I’ve been to have been rammed. I never thought I would be debating the merits of the EU in front of an audience of more than 2,000 people at the London Palladium.
What’s the most ludicrous claim you’ve heard on either side of the argument?
I’d say there are two [laughs]. On the leave side I think Boris Johnson is guilty of propagating nonsense that the EU has sought to stop kids from blowing up balloons. The other was that the EU was going to ban prawn cocktail crisps.
That would be a travesty.
It was absolute b*llocks on both counts. On the Remain side – and I don’t think this is what the prime minister actually said – the write-up said there will be World War Three if we leave the EU. Clearly this isn’t going to happen. I’m not here to defend David Cameron, but I don’t think that was what he said.
You mentioned people coming together in the national interest. Do you think some people are doing it for personal interests?
[Pauses] It looks that way, with regards to Boris Johnson. My issue with him is less to do with the man and more to do with his answers, which I think are wrong.
For a man who apparently spent days tearing himself apart about what side to come down on, he’s been very vocal.
I think he was calculating what will improve his prospects in the forthcoming Conservative leadership contest. The bigger problem is that I think Boris is wrong on the arguments he makes around sovereignty, the economy, and the effects on public services.
Do you think it’s all right for the likes of President Obama and Donald Trump to get involved?
People will welcome their opinion. If we’re arguing whether our continued membership is going to diminish us on the world stage, it’s kind of hard to reach a judgement without knowing what other world powers think.
Jeremy Corbyn has been fairly understated on the whole thing. Do you think that’s a wise decision?
I thought Jeremy gave an excellent speech at the start of the campaign making it clear that he was no evangelist for the EU, but that for people who hold mine and his politics, staying is a no-brainer. We need to make sure people know that is Jeremy’s view. I think it’s useful that he’s a reluctant remainer. For those who might not be so enthusiastic for the EU, they can see that, in spite of that, he believes it’s best for us to stay in.
Rather than people saying the EU’s a bundle of joy…
I wouldn’t say the EU’s a bundle of joy, I don’t think it’s perfect. But this is not the Britain of 1945. We’re not a world superpower, we don’t have an empire, but we’re still a great country with an influence that goes far beyond our medium-sized population. The question is how we continue to punch above our weight. I think networking through institutions like the EU is a way that we amplify our influence.
If we did vote to leave, would you then campaign to get back in?
Would it be possible?
Well I think you have to accept the result, but I wouldn’t stop believing that a strong Britain in the EU is the best way to deliver better outcomes for those who live here.
The campaign so far has been very negative: should someone just say something nice?
I think it’s perfectly legitimate to point out the risks in leaving the EU. I do think we also need to balance that out with positive benefits. For instance, a lot of your readers will have enjoyed travelling around Europe as students, I was on an Erasmus European exchange programme in France. I think that’s an example of a positive benefit that comes from our membership.
What’s the best thing about being part of the EU?
The economic benefits. And because the Leave campaign has lost the debate on the economic benefits, they’re trying to make the referendum all about immigration.
You’re King Of Europe. What would you change about the EU?
I’m King Of Europe… I think there is a bigger role for the EU to play with national security. I’m not talking about the creation of an EU army. If you’ve got an economic core to the EU led by, some would say, Germany, I think there’s a defence core we should develop that the UK can lead, given we’re a Nato and UN security council member.
If we leave the EU, should we also just quit Eurovision?
I like funk, house and hip-hop. I’m not concerned about Eurovision.
You’ll be neutral on that front?
Yeah, I don’t want to offend Eurovision fans.
Please note that this interview took place before the murder of Jo Cox MP.