Sir Edward Leigh is a British Conservative Party politician who has served as a Member of Parliament since 1983. Leigh was knighted in the Queen’s 2013 Birthday Honors for “public and political service,” and has also received honors from the French and Italian governments, however, Leigh has a reputation at Westminster for his independence of mind as a “serial rebeller,” always ready to air his views. An example of that was seen last spring when he appeared to praise Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, when she announced that the government was further relaxing the immigration rules to allow more relatives of Ukrainians in the UK to join their family members, but stopped short of entirely waiving the existing rules for those trying to escape the Russian bombardment in Ukraine. Leigh said: “Everybody wants to be humanitarian and she’s under pressure to have a visa-free scheme like the rest of Europe, but may I actually congratulate her on her proportionate response.
I think we have to remember that, unlike the rest of Europe, we have uniquely liberal labor laws and we speak English, so we are the country of choice for mass immigration, and therefore I do urge her to, as well as listen to all the humanitarian voices, to listen to the voices of people in Lincolnshire [UK region], who feel we’ve done our bit in terms of migration from Eastern Europe. We’re under extreme pressure in terms of housing and jobs.”
Radio Free Europe’s Georgian Service met with Leigh on January 26 in Strasbourg, France, on the sidelines of the winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. We wanted to pick his brain on his current views towards those Ukrainian refugees, and the UK’s assistance in the war against Russia.
Sir Edward, you identify as a Thatcherite. What do you think PM Margaret Thatcher’s course of action would be with regards to the Ukraine war? Would it be different to the current government policy?
I am in absolutely no doubt that if Mrs. Thatcher was still alive, she’d be strongly in favor of helping Ukraine. She was very strongly against aggression. PM Thatcher, better than most, knew what the Cold War was about. She fought against the Soviet Union. And she’d have done the same today, because let’s face it, what Putin is doing now is re-establishing the Soviet Empire.
You were criticized for your remarks about Ukrainian immigrants at the beginning of the invasion. Do you think the UK has done its bit when it comes to supporting Ukraine, in particular the refugee issue?
My comments on the refugee issue were misinterpreted. I am in support of helping Ukrainian refugees, and my office has been hard at work for that cause. The problem here is the home office, with all its bureaucracy.
The Challenger 2 tanks – should the move be followed by more?
I am not a military expert, but I’m glad we provided those heavy tanks. There will probably be more, and I’m glad we set an example to the Germans and Americans.
You were strongly against the 2003 Iraq invasion. Today, Iraq is a stick with which to beat the West when it criticizes Putin’s actions in Ukraine. What do you think of these comparisons?
I don’t think there can be any comparison at all. I was opposed to Iraq and Blair, but what we did was thought to be a deterrence, because it was thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Whereas Blair acted out of goodwill, Putin acts out of malice. Also, Iraq, as you might remember, was a British colony before World War 2, but it was never Blair’s intention to reinstate that, unlike what Putin is doing. So I think any comparison is baseless.
As an ardent Catholic, how do you feel about Russia using orthodox faith and the Church as a weapon in its war against Ukraine?
There is a tradition, we know, in Russia, for the Russian Orthodox Church to be very close to the state. And Putin is using it, rather like Stalin did. But it’s a misuse of religion. And it’s quite wrong for the Patriarch and all the rest of them to allow themselves to be used by Putin to justify a war of aggression. They are Christians, and my personal view is that Christian bishops, patriarchs, metropolitans should stick to talking about Christ, not about war.
Interview by Vazha Tavberidze for RFE