BRITISH members of parliament leapt to the defence of the UK yesterday after a column by City A.M editor Allister Heath – in which he referred to the country’s “failed socialist experiment” – sparked a diplomatic row with the French ambassador.
In a 10-point list attacking the article, the French embassy criticised the NHS, defended its own labour productivity, and attacked the record of the previous UK Tory government, in a remarkable break from protocol. The move sparked an angry response from the government and Tory MPs, and was widely reported by top media organisations in the UK and abroad yesterday.
Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg called the list “undignified,” adding that he thought the rush to respond to an opinion piece “doesn’t seem to me to be what a grand embassy does”.
In his piece Heath wrote: “France’s economic sickness is primarily due to its overbearing state, horrendously high tax levels, insane regulations, absurd levels of inefficient public spending and generalised hatred of commerce, capitalism, success and hard work.”
French diplomats hit back in an unprecedented move, launching a counter-attack on the UK and calling the NHS an “ailing institution”. They went on to claim that the French also have better infrastructure, from high-speed rail to energy. The row heated up when health minister Jeremy Hunt stepped in, pointing out: “We may face stiff competition from the French on cheese and wine but there’s a reason the NHS makes us more proud to be British than any other institution.”
Rees-Mogg added: “We know that Hollande is not keen on the British government because he feels under pressure, but their 10 points were so pathetic. It was like one of those Private Eye mock ups: Here are 10 points where such and such is wrong and you have one, two, three, four, here’s another point, six and we’ve run out of things to say, it’s very strange.” Fellow Tory Dom Raab said: “There’s a reason London is now the sixth largest French city, and that’s because an increasing number of French workers recognise their socialist experiment has failed”.