"I don't meet with fascists"




Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the House of Commons, talks about his reasons to vote for Brexit, how the EU will be without Great Britain and his refusal to meet with MPs of Austria’s governing FPÖ.


Tom Tugendhat, 45, is a member of the British Conservative Party, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army and he voted Remain in the EU-Referendum in 2016. He comes from an Austrian family, the Tugendhats had to escape from Vienna in 1938. Tugendhat is married to a French judge, they hold both French and British citizenship. But throughout the Brexit process Tugendhat came to the conclusion that Brexit is unstoppabable. In his interview with profil after a Brexit deabte at Vienna’s Burgtheater organized by the „Institute for Human Sciences“ Tom Tugendhat explains why.


Profil: Almost three years after the Brexit-Referendum there is still not political majority for a concrete Brexit proposal. Is the Brexit vote irreversible or is it possible that the government listens to the millions of people who signed a petition to revoke Article 50 or to the one million people demonstrating in London calling for a second referendum?


Tugendhat: There is no evidence of many major change in opinion at all.


Profil: A poll by the „National Cente for social Research“ shows, that 55 percent are now for Remaining in the EU.


Tugendhat: I don’t hear people coming up to me and saying: I have voted leave and I now want to remain. Maybe this is just my community, maybe only the circles I move in. I meet a lot of people who are more cross han they were three years ago, that yes.


Profil: One million people demonstrating for Remain on the streets of London don’t change your opinion?


Tugendhat: Sure, this is impressive. But those people voted Remain three years ago. This is not a change.


Profil: What changed you? You were a Remainer and you now voted for Theresa Mays deal.

Tugendhat: Yes. I think the referendum has democratic legitimacy, and if you hold a general election and made a further promise to deliver Brexit, you should stick to it.


Profil: You could argue, that if you can vote for the same whithdrawal deal three times and maybe also about Brexit in a referendum.


Tugendhat: We had a vote. We should follow through with it.



Profil: While we speak your colleagues are discuinng on WhatsApp how to replace Theresa May. Will there be a party putsch and if so, when?


Tugendhat: It is too early to tell. It is exetremely likely that the Prime Minister will be gone within a few days. What exactly happens then is too early to say.


profil: Who would be a good prime ministerial replacement?


Tugendhat: My guess ist hat it will be someboday who voted to leave the European Union because they would then have the opportunity to make the necessary compromises which otherwise would be seen as betrayals. So it is likely to be somebody like Michael Gove.


Profil: The environment secretary has voted for Leave but so far not left cabinet in protest against Theresa May. Not David Lidington, who gained respect as De facto Vice Prime minister?


Tugendhat: David is a very good and very, very clever man. But the problem with him ist hat he voted to Remain in the Eurpean Union. He would find it harder to persuade people to compromise. Because all his attempts to convince people of something will be seen as an atempt to stay in the EU.


Profil: Are you as foreign policy committee chief not sorry to see Britain lose the usual access to EU discussions?


Tugendhat: There are ways of cooperating which are not confined to the European Union. We will go through OSCE, NATO, UN, we will find new ways for Eutopean channels. We will find a new construct to allow the converations we need to have.


Profil: If Britain leaves, ist voice will be missed in the EU institutions. Take Russia as example: Britain wants to keep the sanctions against Russia, Austria would prefer to lift them.


Tugendhat: We should work together on Russia as well in the future. With the Americans and many others. Russia is a real challenge to all of us. It has inviaded and occupied Georgia, it has invaded and occupied Ukraine. It has conducted extremely hostile activity in the BalticsIt attempted to murder the rime minister of Montenegro. It spread false infrmaton with the intention of creting civil unrest in germany. Russia is a state that is behaving in an extremely hostile fashion towards pretty much everybodx. We got to work together to call it out. It is a mafia economy, we need to work together to proctect the Russian people. The reality is that Russia is a violent mafia regime headed by one oft he richest men in the world, Vladimir Putin, who has been hiding his money around the world, in various jurisdictions, including, sadly the United Kingdom.


Profil: If you would not be so busy with Brexit chaos, you could stop that.


Tugendhat: We need to be much better in finding Putin’s money, seizing it and returning it to the Russian people. I am pushing for this and we are seeing important changes.


Profil: But the attempt to push the offshore territorities to more transparency has been delayed again?


Tugendhat: Parlament has voted to let it come into force in 2021 and the government wanted to delay it to 2023. It has nothing to do with Brexit, but with the ability of these territories adjusting these tax codes. This is a perfectly normal discussion between parliament and government. Parliament will end up winning. Our security miniser Ben Wallace is doing huge ammounts of work on clamping down on illegal wealth in the UK. It should have started ten years ago, yes, true. The UK has huge problems with that. True, too. But so do other European countries.


Profil: Is Brexit a populist vote that you see in connection with Trump’s election and the right populist wave in election victories in Europe?


Tugendhat: Partly. I think that if you look at the UK many people from different backgrounds had different motives voted to „Take back Control“ and more accountability of their own institutions. I made the arguemnt that we could exercise our influence in Europe better by staying at the table in the EU. But people voted differently.


Profil: You don’t see a similiarity between Brexiteers and right wingpopulist parties like the FPÖ?


Tugendhat: In the UK we don’t have the problem of the far right. There is a real danger that people might think that Brexit is somehow connected to the FPÖ. It is not.



Profil: Are your government and other European governments worried that the inclusion of the FPÖ in the Austrian government compromises the security of European security services?


Tugendhat: Yes. It is very difficult to view symathecially an organisation that is headed by a member of the FPÖ like your interior ministry.


Profil: Is it true that you refused to meet MPs of the FPÖ, when they came to see you in London?


Tugendhat: Yes, that is true. I refused to meet with them. I don’t think it is a good idea to meet fascists. I don’t meet fascists from any country.



Profil: If you would stay, you could then better counter balance the far right parties gaining influence in EU governments, maybe even institutions?


Tugendhat: That is a legitimate perspective, but not the one of the British people. Brexit is not a right wing project. Jeremy Corbyn has voted against the EU for more than 30 yeas and he is from the far Left.




Interview: Tessa Szyszkowitz


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© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz