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  • Writer's pictureSamuel Lee

British Prime Ministers and their remarks about Eurovision

Eurovision is a big deal even in the United Kingdom. So much so, most recent British Prime Ministers have been quizzed about the Contest sometime during their tenure.

In light of this year's Contest being held in Liverpool, we take a look and see what various British PMs have said about the Europe-wide competition over the years.

David Cameron

The first Tory PM in this current tenure of Conservative government managed to talk about Eurovision in the House of Commons. When asked in April 2016 what was the worst argument he heard for leaving the European Union (EU), Cameron answered: “I think probably the one that we'd get out of the Eurovision Song Contest.”

Cameron even referenced Australia's participation at Eurovision in his answer. He stated: “I think that would not only be very sad [to leave Eurovision] but I think given that Israel and Azerbaijan and anyone anywhere near Europe seems to be able to – [even] Australia – I think we're pretty safe from that one.’”

At the time debate was raging in the UK as to whether the country should leave the EU. In a referendum on June 23 that year, the nation did indeed vote to leave the European Organisation.

Another Eurovision connection Cameron has, is that he was a big supporter of Jedward when they were participating in the British edition of The X Factor in 2009. The Irish twins would subsequently represent Ireland at Eurovision in 2011 and 2012.

Theresa May

Britain's second female Prime Minister was also asked a Brexit-related Eurovision question. When appearing on the BBC's The One Show in May 2017, May was asked by presenter Alex Jones (who was the UK's spokesperson at Eurovision 2011), whether Brexit would also mean the UK would leave Eurovision.

After a brief pause May declared "no", though she did go on to say "although I'm tempted to say in current circumstances I'm not sure how many votes we will get." May at the time was at the fore-front of negotiating the terms of Britain's exit from the EU. The full question and response can be seen below:

May has also inspired a Eurovision act.

Iceland's Eurovision 2019 representatives Hatari were asked by OUTtv which one, special person they could bring to Tel Aviv, they unequivocally answered Theresa May. They went onto say "we hear she is having a tough time right now. So a happy occasion such as the [Eurovision] ... could really lift her spirits." Hatari also mentioned they adored her dance moves, in reference to May's entrance to the Conservative Party conference with ABBA's 'Dancing Queen' playing in the background.

Boris Johnson

May's successor Boris Johnson was a strong advocate for this year's Eurovision to be held in Ukraine. He made this view clear in June 2022, after returning from a surprise visit to Kyiv. At the time there was already speculation that Ukraine would be unable to host Eurovision 2023 in light of Russia's invasion, and that as the runners-up in 2022 the UK would be asked to step in.

At RAF Brize Norton Johnson told the awaiting media: "The Ukrainians won ... I know we had a fantastic entry, I know we came second and I would love it to be [in the UK] ... but the fact is [Ukraine] won and they deserve to have it. I believe they can have and I believe that they should have it."

Despite Johnson's public comments, on July 25, 2022 the EBU, UA:PBC and BBC announced that Eurovision 2023 would indeed be held in the UK. On that same day, Johnson tweeted:

"Last week President [Zelenskyy] and I agreed that wherever Eurovisoin 2023 is held, it must celebrate the country and people of Ukraine. As we are now hosts, the UK will honour that pledge directly - and put on a fantastic contest on behalf of our Ukrainian friends."

Liz Truss

Given that her premiership only lasted forty-nine days, it is little surprise that Truss made no public comments about Eurovision as PM. However, she did make some remarks about Eurovision when she was Trade minister.

In May 2021 Truss appeared on LBC radio for an interview. Earlier that month James Newman had scored 'nul points' at Eurovision 2021. When prompted, Truss denied that the result was due to a Brexit backlash.

Truss instead revealed she believed the issue was with how the British entrant was being selected and their lack of preparation:

"I think there is a fundamental problem with the way we are choosing our ... singers for [Eurovision] ... I think we need to have more competition to get the right entry, I think they need to be more tested with the public."

The eventual third female British PM even compared her media appearances to the sort of rigour a British Eurovision entrant should be expected to go through: "I am here today at LBC responding to questions from listeners. That is the kind of testing that we need our song contest entrant to go through. So maybe it should be LBC running it, not the BBC."

Truss' suggestion that LBC instead of BBC should choose the British Eurovision entrant was not upheld. However there was indeed a change in the selection process. BMG, the record label who had helped the BBC chose James Newman, was replaced by TaP Music. The latter, together with the BBC, selected Sam Ryder to represent the UK at Eurovision 2022 where he finished runners-up. So perhaps Truss was onto something after all.

Rishi Sunak

Given that it is almost certain Eurovision 2023 will be held during his premiership, the current British PM has been asked on several occasions already about the Contest in Liverpool.

In an interview with the BBC's Jon Kay, Sunak revealed that whilst he would not be attending Eurovision this year in-person, he would be hosting a viewing party at Downing Street for Ukrainian families.

Sunak stated: "[we have to] remember the reason we are hosting Eurovision is because of the situation in Ukraine. So we thought it would be a nice idea to bring Ukrainian families here to watch the evening ... it is a good source of pride for the entire country to do this."

Unfortunately the current British PM also remarked due to his busy schedule he has no time to be a Eurovision fan.

Suank was also asked a Eurovision related question in the House of Commons. On March 8 this year, Labour MP Kevin Brennan asked why the Conservative government wasn't doing more to support genuine Eurovision fans from prices gouging off the Contest's tickets. This was in light of a report by BBC Radio 4's You and Yours that revealed queue jumpers had purchased Eurovision tickets and later put them for sale at a much dearer price on unsecure websites.

The British PM promised to make sure to look into the issue and see what could be done. He also remarked: "It is a source of enormous pride for us to host Eurovision. I know it's something everyone is looking forward to and we should ensure that there is a broad as possible access to seeing that."

Given the fact that that all five of the most recent British prime ministers have been grilled about Eurovision at some stage during their political careers, it goes to show the Contest is still an important part of British cultural psyche.

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