Sadiq Khan and comedian Dom Joly among those condemning ‘racist’ and ‘hypocritical’ claims
The Fawlty Towers actor John Cleese has been criticised for repeating his 2011 claim that London was no longer an English city.
Cleese, 79, tweeted that his friends abroad agreed with his observation, concluding: “So there must be some truth in it.” The comedian described London as “the UK city that voted most strongly to remain in the EU”. Almost 60% of residents voted to stay in the bloc in 2016.
The actor later issued a qualified apology following widespread condemnation. In a string of tweets countering accusations that his initial tweet was linked to race, he said: “I suspect I should apologise for my affection for the Englishness of my upbringing, but in some ways I found it calmer, more polite, more humorous, less tabloid, and less money-oriented than the one that is replacing it.”
Last year, the Monty Python comic announced that he was moving to the Caribbean because he was disappointed with Britain.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “These comments make John Cleese sound like he’s in character as Basil Fawlty. Londoners know that our diversity is our greatest strength. We are proudly the English capital, a European city and a global hub.”
Tanja Bueltmann, a professor of history at Northumbria University and an EU citizens’ rights campaigner, said Cleese’s comments were designed to stir up emotions around the debate on Brexit, but argued that they pointed to a much larger issue of the way British people talked about immigration.
“I find it hypocritical that someone who is actually living abroad feels the need to make a point like this,” she said. “Why do some British people not see themselves as immigrants if they’ve moved elsewhere? We see cases of British people referring to themselves as expats, detaching themselves from the term immigrant.”
Kuba Jabłonowski, a social science researcher in Bristol, said he was shocked when he saw the tweet. “He claims to care deeply about Britain and its cities, but seems to know very little about them,” he said.
Jabłonowski added that there were other UK cities, including Edinburgh, Bristol, Manchester and Glasgow, that voted to remain in even bigger numbers. “If he doesn’t know that, then why is he commenting on it? When I say things on Twitter, 700 people read it, but when he does, millions read it.”
The British comedian Dom Joly, 51, also criticised Cleese’s tweet. He said: “John Cleese is one of my comedy heroes … Suddenly this thing came out of nowhere and it’s so depressing on so many levels.
“He’s clearly a really smart, funny man, but it is basically a very racist tweet. Secondly, it’s a racist tweet by a man who lives on a Caribbean island – the irony of that is insane. Even the language is insane. Who uses the word ‘opine’?”