Sir Roger Gale wants the UK to mend bridges with Europe. | Majorca Daily Bulletin reporter


Sir Roger Gale is one of the longest serving Conservative MPs in parliament and the unofficial MP for British expatriates, having campaigned for the rights of Britons living abroad for many years and been the political driving force behind restoring the right for all British expats to vote in general elections, which will finally be the case at the forthcoming elections in two years time, unless there are any more surprises in Westminster.

As an outspoken member of the back bench, his position has always been very straightforward. Following the “Barnard Castle Affair”, involving Mr. Cummings, he concluded that the Prime Minister’s judgement was deeply flawed and submitted his “letter” to Sir Graham Brady calling for a vote of no confidence.

As far as he was aware at the time, it was the first letter that Sir Graham received and had nothing to do with “Partygate”, which was - at that time - not even a gleam in a tabloid editor’s eye. All the events that have followed merely confirmed his initial misgivings, and now the country waits to see who the final two candidates for leadership of the Conservative Party are on Monday.

Born in 1943, Sir Roger was educated at Hardye’s School in Dorchester, Dorset and the London Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He is a former producer and director of current affairs programmes for the BBC, editor of Thames Television’s Teenage Unit, and a freelance radio journalist.
He has been a Conservative member of the UK Parliament for more than 30 years, having been elected as MP for the North Thanet constituency in 1983 and re-elected eight times since then, most recently in June 2017.

He is the longest-serving member of the Speaker’s Panel of Chairmen, and has acted as a Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. From 1992 to 1995 he was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State for the Armed Forces.

He also has a specialised knowledge of animal welfare issues, having been the Founding Chairman of the All Party Group for the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments. He is President of the Conservative Animal Welfare Group.

Sir Roger first served on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe between 1987 and 1989, was re-appointed in 2010 and now leads the United Kingdom delegation to the Assembly. He currently sits on the Monitoring and Rules Committees of the Assembly and is a former Chair of the Media and Information Society Sub-Committee. For the Assembly, he has observed elections in Armenia, Georgia, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Ukraine and Tunisia.

And it is Europe where Sir Roger believes that much work will have to be done by the new leader and his or her team. “One thing for sure is that Brexit will not be renegotiated, not even the leader of the opposition wants to go down that road. It’s done and dusted and will not be overturned.

“That said, what we as a party and the country as a whole need is a pragmatic, honest and straightforward leader who will open sensible lines of negotiation with Europe. There are a host of outstanding reciprocal agreements which need to made - from pet passports to health insurance and driving licences, for example. And the latter, I am afraid, is being held up in Spain by the Spanish government, not London.

“Plus there is the burning issue of Northern Ireland. The Withdrawal Agreement, with its Northern Ireland Protocol, threatens the future of the United Kingdom.

“While there are many in Northern Ireland, not least the major business organisations, who regard the protocol in business terms as ‘having our cake and eating it’, it is anathema to the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and is therefore a threat to the power-sharing upon which the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement and peace in the Province is based.

“And on the home front, this has certainly been diluted by a mini-budget in which the former Chancellor Rishi Sunak sought to take the sting out of rising food and fuel charges. That train, though, is still coming down the tracks and come autumn and then winter yet another budget and yet more expenditure may be needed to head off the harshest effects upon those least able to provide for themselves.

“There is a limit to the amount that a Chancellor can borrow without storing up grief for years to come. I am not an economist but my guess is that we are pretty near that limit – and that does not take into account public sector pay demands and threats of strike action by the transport unions and others. Overseas, Putin’s illegal and criminal invasion of Ukraine has morphed into a war of attrition. The effects upon the economies of the developed world and the disruption of food supplies from Ukraine to some of the planet’s poorest nations are likely to prove devastating, and holding the alliance against Russia that has to date proved so effective will not be an easy task. We must, though, in the interests of long-term peace and democracy continue to give all support possible - in military equipment and humanitarian aid - to the people of a country that is fighting not only for its own life but for our way of life as well.

“That is the situation that faces the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – whoever he or she may emerge to be,” Sir Roger told the Bulletin.

“So, looking forward, the Conservative Party is a robust assembly, and providing we get the right people in place, I don’t think too much damage has been done to the party in the long term. In the short term, Johnson’s blatant dishonesty and short-sightedness has damaged the party, but fortunately Sir Keir Starmer and his Labour Party have failed to capitalise on the mess Johnson has put the party in, so I think they may have to do some soul searching as well once they know who they are going to be up against if they are serious about winning the next election.

“And with regard to the long term, the new Conservative leader has got to be sensible and repair the damage Brexit has done to the UK’s relationship with Europe. Of course Johnson looked like a fish out of water at the NATO summit. Apart from being damaged goods, he has not made many friends in Europe. His anti-Europe and immigration Brexit campaign upset many people and did the country few favours. Granted, not being tied into the EU meant that the UK was able to roll out such a fast Covid vaccine programme and develop new trade deals around the world, but that’s about it. The Brexit campaign, apart from being based on lies, was also very anti-immigration. All the talk about foreigners stealing jobs just got people hot under the collar and now look at the situation facing the UK. It has one of the lowest unemployment rates but one of the highest numbers of vacancies. Brexit, followed by the pandemic, meant that many immigrant workers went home and have since found jobs, which in many cases pay the same or not more, and they are with their families in their home country. Do they want to return to what appears to be an anti-immigration UK? No. When one looks at the UK’s history, as a country our doors have always been open to immigrant workers, they’ve played a very important part in the development of the UK, but Johnson turned on them in order to get Brexit over the line while upsetting our European neighbours.

“But we can’t turn the clock back so we now need a sensible and grown-up leader who is prepared to try and bring Britain back into the European fold, no longer use ‘Europe’ as a dirty word and stop banging on about the dangers of the European Court of Human Rights.
“That is not part of the European Union, it is the legal arm of the Council of Europe.

“We need to start paying more attention to Europe. It is a very powerful voice and millions of Britons live and work in the European Union, but Brexit, in particular the anti-Europe attitude held by Johnson which has sadly spread across parts of the country, has done little to help those Britons living in the EU or overseas in general.

“Those who are paid-up members of the Conservative Party do have the right to cast their votes in the leadership contest and I hope we get the mechanisms working in time for that to happen. And thanks to years of campaigning by myself and other expatriates, the right to vote in general elections will be restored after Tony Blair introduced the 15-year rule.

“I think most people know my opinion about Johnson. He has always been dishonest, even when he was Mayor of London, and was prepared to have done anything within his powers to have undermined former leaders to get into Number 10.

“However, he has been caught out and he should have stepped down when he resigned. He should have gone immediately, if not sooner. That way his legacy would have been better protected.
“In the short term, I fear there are more negatives than positives as a result of Brexit, but in the long term, once the dust settles, I think the UK can and will re-establish its position around the world, not only in the EU, and also properly address the problems on the home front.

“But the country is going to need a team player, a grown-up politician who understands diplomacy, understands the world and is prepared to have a sensible and adult relationship on the international stage. We need a safe pair of hands.”

As Churchill said: ‘History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.’ I bet Johnson is already writing his memoirs.”