WATCH: Emily Thornberry ambushes Michael Fallon over 2007 visit to Assad in Syria

Posted On: 
14th May 2017

The Shadow Foreign Secretary today ambushed a senior Conservative minister over a 2007 parliamentary visit to Syria to meet Bashar al-Assad after he was re-elected president.

Emily Thornberry and Michael Fallon appearing on the Andrew Marr show this morning
PA Images

Emily Thornberry confronted Michael Fallon over a trip he made ten years ago along with other MPs, after the Defence Secretary sought to highlight Jeremy Corbyn’s "open support" with the IRA as evidence for why he should not be prime minister.

The Shadow Cabinet member said she would not “judge” Mr Fallon for going on the visit in the same way people should not criticise Mr Corbyn for talking to all sides in a bid to achieve peace in Northern Ireland.

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Mr Fallon said he had gone to Syria on all party visit on a “fact-finding mission” and said the UK had a different relationship with the Syrian government a decade ago.

In a lively exchange on the Andrew Marr show this morning Ms Thornberry also described as “bollocks” Mr Fallon’s claim that she wants to renegotiate the Falkland Islands' sovereignty.

Watch the full clip below:

The trip took place between 27 May to 2 June 2007. Assad was re-elected president with 99.82% of the vote on 29 May.

Aside from Mr Fallon, the attendees on the trip were fellow Cabinet member Jeremy Hunt, and former MPs Richard Spring, Brooks Newmark, Shahid Malik, Roger Berry and John Grogan.

Read a transcript of the key exchange, after Ms Thornberry was confronted about Mr Corbyn’s previous meetings with members of the IRA

ET: “I think that there were negotiations going on behind the scenes and there were people speaking openly. And this is something which has been known for 30 years and it’s being dragged up at this particular time because there’s a general election on...

“I suppose if you judge people by who it is that you spend time with, the question has to be, do you remember where you were on 27 May 2007?"

MF: “I’m sure you’re going to tell me."

ET: “Yes I am. So you were in Syria and you were celebrating at a reception the re-election of President Assad with 99% of the vote. Now I’m not going to judge you on you going to a reception with Assad and I don’t think that people should judge Jeremy by trying to talk to people who might be open to a settlement in Northern Ireland."

MF: “I think there's a little bit of a difference."

AM: "Is this true?"

MF: "There was a parliamentary visit, I was on a parliamentary, all-party visit to Syria back in 2007. MPs have gone every year to Syria during the better times in the relationship between...

ET: "But you were at the party weren't you?"

MF: “I don’t recall any party in Syria. I remember a fact-finding visit to Syria that happened every year with MPs going out there. 

AM: "Did you meet Assad when you were there?"

MF: "I did meet Assad, indeed."

AM: "Shake his hand and..?"

MF: "Indeed I met Assad."

ET: "And you celebrated his re-election."

MF: "I didn’t celebrate his re-election… Nonsense. It was 10 years ago, we had a different relationship with Assad here. But there’s a huge moral difference between talking to other foreign leaders… and Jeremy Corbyn’s quite open support for the IRA.”