Seb Cooke discusses why Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, is no friend to refugees
Tim Farron gave a speech at the Lib Dem conference on Tuesday where he told a story about the time he was handing out water to refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos.
In his story, as he was committing this divine act of charity, a woman from New Zealand shouted at him because he was a British politician. She said something like: “stop handing out water and take some more fucking refugees”.
Farron was horrified at the way people now view Britain. (Maybe he assumes that people think Britain was wonderful when the Lib Dems were in government and mobile billboards were driven around telling refugees to go home – we can only speculate on that.)
We should applaud the woman in this story for speaking the truth: Britain should take more refugees. But how happy would she be that Tim Farron has now used her comments to make out that he stands up for refugees and that he is horrified at how little the government is doing?
His speech has won praise for highlighting the plight of child refugees and showing that Britain should take more. On the one hand, anything that makes such a demand is welcome, since to achieve a political solution to the refugee crisis we will need a broad movement against the government. That is true, but it’s not what Tim Farron is interested in. In the same speech, the Lib Dem leader showed just how shallow his commitment is to defending refugees.
If you were really interested in defending refugees from the government and the right-wing press, then why would you, in the same speech, join that very same government and that very same right-wing press in attacking the first British politician who went to the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais, Jeremy Corbyn?
Why choose to lay into the person who used his first act as party leader to address a huge rally in support of refugees, and who has consistently called for Britain to take more?
When Corbyn went to Calais to meet unaccompanied children, he was mocked by David Cameron in Parliament for hanging out with a “bunch of migrants”. When Farron attacks Jeremy Corbyn in his speech, he might as well be repeating Cameron’s slur. Instead of defending Corbyn against the racist press and government for his stance on refugees, Farron joins in to give him a kicking.
Amazingly, the politician he’s keen to praise is the one who bears so much responsibility for the horror that refugees are fleeing from: Tony Blair.
Farron stated much he admired Blair for “getting stuff done”. Some of the stuff that Blair “got done” involved bombing Iraq and Afghanistan and explicitly making it harder for refugees to come to Britain. He once boasted that his government removed over 12,000 people from Britain in just one year after their asylum applications had been rejected. Even now, Blair profits directly from advising and supporting some of the world’s most brutal regimes.
It is Jeremy Corbyn who has consistently opposed the kind of western intervention that has caused such damage. But who does Tim Farron side with in his staunch defence of people fleeing war and horror in the Middle East and North Africa? He chooses the person who invaded Iraq, not the one who opposed it.
In Farron’s eyes, Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest crime is that he did not gush at how wonderful the EU was throughout the referendum campaign. This is true: Corbyn was openly critical of aspects of the EU when he campaigned for Remain. For the Lib Dems, this is a red line.
Yet Farron wilfully ignores the way the EU treats refugees. He spins a lie that the European Union is a place of safety for those fleeing war and terror. He believes that membership of the EU would mean that Britain would be an open and tolerant country, and for this reason he believes he could work with Owen Smith because Smith was much more pro-EU than Corbyn.
This is the kind of alliance that Farron could imagine: one that joins up with Owen Smith, who lied so he could blame refugee children for taking school places in South Wales. This is Farron’s idea of openness and tolerance inside the EU.
Farron does not stand with refugees. Farron stands with those who are attacking the people who have done the most to defend refugees. He stands with the Tories, the EU, the warmonger Blair and those in Labour who are attacking Jeremy Corbyn.
Tim Farron is no friend to refugees.