Jacob Rees-Mogg has taught us all a valuable lesson in how not to do international diplomacy by making a remarkable comment about the sensibilities of French people.
After discussing the ongoing Brexit fishing row between France and the UK in his podcast, the – and I’m so sorry for the full body cringe that surely awaits – Moggcast, Rees-Mogg sparked a backlash by posting a tweet promoting it, which – without context – claimed: “the French are always grumpy in October” because they are reminded of historical battles they lost in this month.
Rees-Mogg was paraphrasing comments he made in a discussion about the latest Brexit related bureaucratic nightmare which is playing out as the two countries argue about fish – or more specifically the implementation of post-Brexit licensing rules needed for the UK to fish in EU waters and visa versa.
France has detained a British trawler and fined another fishing vessel in the Channel in recent days, claiming they did not follow necessary checks and licensing rules to fish in those waters, and France has also claimed the UK has only issued half the fishing licences that France believes it should have.
Obviously, the UK disagree and say they are licensing most French boats but safe to say, it’s all kicking off and it has been reported that France may even ban British trawlers in some ports altogether in retaliation.
Speaking about the issue on his podcast, Rees-Mogg appeared to be joking when he said French President Emmanuel Macron was motivated by “late Octoberitus”.
“We have very important anniversaries at the end of October,” he said.
“We have Trafalgar day on the 21st, Agincourt day on the 25th and the French are always a bit touchy at the end of October and get upset about things.”
Appearing to give the issue a more serious thought, he then added: “France is an important neighbour and a friendly ally who we work very closely with particularly on defence matters, but Macron has his own political audience...”
He went on to criticise moves to punish the UK and said: “Macron’s always been hostile to Brexit, he’s always been hostile to the freedoms that we’ve got, he is therefore doing what he can to stir things up a bit but it's ultimately in our interests to have a sensible relationship with France, with the European Union.”
But responding to the tidbit he posted on Twitter, which paraphrased his full comments made on the podcast, people thought this was pretty bizarre behaviour from an elected politician and someone even had to check that it wasn’t a parody account posting:
@Jacob_Rees_Mogg you are the leader of the house. We have two European countries playing stupid games in front of a… https://t.co/JDaZkNw49D
Meanwhile, Rees-Mogg’s opinion of the French is not the only way he has grabbed headlines today. The politician has also attracted criticism for defending Tory MP Owen Paterson, who is facing a temporary suspension from parliament for breaking lobbying rules, in the podcast.
Expressing sympathy with Paterson’s complaint that 17 witnesses who wanted to speak in his favour were not able to give oral evidence during the investigation into his behaviour, he said:
“It is always very important that systems appear to be fair, and therefore if somebody has witnesses, it would normally appear to be fair that those witnesses should be heard.”
The standards committee had said the witnesses wanted to talk about their perception of Paterson’s motivations, which would not substantially alter the facts about what rules had been broken.
Elsewhere in the podcast, also Rees-Mogg discussed Cop26 and climate change.