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Coffee House General Election 2017

Andrew Neil interviews Jeremy Corbyn: Full transcript

26 May 2017

7:30 PM

26 May 2017

7:30 PM

AN: Mr Corbyn, today you drew a link between terror attacks at home and British actions abroad. Do you believe if Britain had not followed the foreign policy it has since Tony Blair was in office the attack on Manchester would not have happened?

JC: The attack on Manchester was shocking, appalling, indefensible, wrong in every possible way. The parallel I was drawing this morning was that a number of people ever since the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have drawn attention to the links with foreign policy, including Boris Johnson in 2005, two former heads of MI5, and of course the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. And the point I was making was we have to make our streets secure. We have to make our population secure. We also, any sensible government has got to look to what is happening in Libya, a huge ungoverned space, and apparently a source of some awful extremism.

AN: But was Manchester a consequence of our foreign policy?

JC: Manchester was a consequence of one person going into a music event and killing a very large number of people. There can be no defence whatsoever of that –

AN: So nothing to do with foreign policy?

JC: I do not in any way change that view. That is just a vile, horrible event, and those people have got to be brought to book. One, obviously the one who did it, is dead. But there appears to be a whole connection of them. But I made the point that if we are to have a secure future we’ve got to look at ungoverned spaces around the world and the consequences of our wars of intervention. This is not just me; as I said it’s MI5, it’s the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, it’s a number of other people.

AN: But I’m struggling to find the role of foreign policy. You see, Islamic State was founded well before the invasion of Iraq. It’s murdering people across Europe because it hates our values. Only last year they said this: ‘some might argue that your foreign policies are what drives our hatred. But this particular reason for hating you is secondary. Even if you were to stop bombing us we would continue to hate you. Our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam.’ It’s not foreign policy.

JC: It’s a totally perverted form of Islam. It’s not Islam at all.

AN: But it’s not foreign policy.

JC: No, it’s not Islam at all. What we have is a total perversion of Islam there. The point I’m making, the point that many others have made, not of necessarily Labour opinion or any other, really, quite a wide range of opinion across the spectrum, is that you have the consequences of our interventions in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, leaving large numbers of ungoverned spaces, leaving people in a desperate situation, who themselves may become prey to that form of perversion. And I think it would be unwise of any government to ignore that. And that’s exactly what the Foreign Affairs Select Committee pointed out.

AN: But they’re targeting young girls at a pop concert because they hate our values; they said they hate secular liberal societies. It’s not foreign policy.

JC: I agree they hate those liberal values, they hate the idea of women being able to enjoy themselves and all the liberal values, and that was the whole point of my speech this morning. We’ve got to defend our liberal values.

AN: Sure, but where’s the foreign policy in there? I mean, what was the foreign policy of Sweden that resulted in Sweden being attacked?

JC: The foreign policy issue has to be for all of us the – what is happening in a number of countries where we’ve intervened and where there is a lack of any coherent form of –

AN: But we’d be attacked anyway.

JC: Well, Andrew, shouldn’t we look at where the sources are coming from of those attacks? Surely any sensible person would want to do that.

AN: But you’re the one who raised foreign policy today, what was the foreign policy? The Yazidi women enslaved and sexually assaulted, killed. The Yazidi women, what was their foreign policy?

JC: Andrew, I am not defending any attacks on women or anybody else. What I’m saying is –

AN: I’m not accusing you.

JC: Thank you. What I’m saying is that it would be unwise of any government anywhere in the world to ignore the issue of instability across the piece which gives a space for that kind of perversion of Islam to take hold. Barack Obama has said as much; many others have said as much.

AN: You’ve called for – your phrase was ‘smarter ways’ today to deal with countries harbouring terrorists. But you wouldn’t put boots on the ground, you wouldn’t bomb the terrorists, you wouldn’t use drones to take out the terrorist leaders, so what would you do? Would you talk to them?

JC: No, I wouldn’t. Isis doesn’t come from nowhere. Isis doesn’t get its money from nowhere. Isis doesn’t get its arms from nowhere. Isis does have a whole lot of connections around the world, financial and others, which I think need to be robustly chased and followed.

AN: That’s it, that’s the smarter way?

JC: Well, that’s a good start for doing it. The other one is to look at the situation in Libya, where you have a lack of government, where you need a stronger presence of UN diplomacy in order to bring about the start of some stronger form of government there. Otherwise you’ve got a problem which isn’t going to go away. And that is a view that I’ve put forward in what was intended to be a thoughtful contribution this morning of how we deal with these things. And I’ll think you’ll find actually quite a lot of the public would not disagree with what I’ve said.

AN: Well, we live in an age of terrorism now. That’s clear. And one of the most important responsibilities of being Prime Minister is keeping the British people safe. Why would the British people want as their leader a man who for years supported the IRA?

JC: I didn’t support the IRA. I don’t support the IRA. What I want everywhere is a peace process. What I want everywhere is decency and human rights. We went through all the horrors of Northern Ireland from the – all through the ‘70s and ‘80s, through the period of the Troubles, and eventually came from that a peace process, the Good Friday Agreement, and now relative peace and stability. And actually, you know, Northern Ireland has been a bit of a model around the world. It’s certainly helped in the peace process in Colombia. It’s a model that’s been used in trying to bring communities together in South Africa and other places. I think there’s something we can all learn from Northern Ireland, where the two big divides, the nationalist tradition and the unionist tradition, came together on a basis of recognising a different tradition each had. That’s quite powerful.

AN: You say you didn’t support the IRA. But you invited convicted IRA terrorists to tea in the Commons a few weeks after the Brighton bomb which tried to destroy our elected government. You stood for a minute’s silence to honour – your word, Mr Corbyn – honour IRA terrorists killed by the British army. Throughout the ‘80s and the ‘90s you spoke at scores of hard-line republican gatherings which backed the IRA and the armed struggle.

JC: I always wanted and always do want peace, always want a dialogue between people of vastly different backgrounds. And the minute’s silence you referred to was in 1987 and it was for all who’d died in Northern Ireland.

AN: In honour of the eight IRA terrorists that had been killed – that was the purpose of the meeting.

JC: I said all those that’ve died in Northern Ireland. I made that very, very clear.

AN: But the purpose of the meeting was to honour these terrorists. I mean, as you went to all these hard-line republican meetings they were backed by the IRA and its apologists. At any time publicly did you urge them to give up the bomb and the bullet?

JC: I always said the bombing process would never work – that there wasn’t a military solution to be found in Northern Ireland. I made that very clear. I made that very clear in the House of Commons and other places.

AN: But did you urge the IRA to stop the bombs, or its front people that you did meet at the time?

JC: I never met the IRA. I obviously did meet people from Sinn Fein as indeed I met people from other organisations, and I always made the point that there had to be a dialogue and a peace process. Now, a lot of people did a lot of work on this and eventually it was Mo Mowlam as much as anybody else that managed to bring those groups together, and she used a lot of connections in order to bring those people together. And I think we should recognise that.

AN: We certainly recognise Mo Mowlam, it’s your role I’m trying to find out, because the former IRA terrorist leader Sean O’Callaghan, he says, quote: you ‘played no part ever at any time in promoting peace in Northern Ireland.’ He says the peace you sought was a ‘victory for the IRA’.

JC: Well, I’ve never had a discussion with Sean O’Callaghan. I have no idea why he would say that. As far as I’m concerned the whole process had to be that there wasn’t going to be a military solution in Northern Ireland. The Prevention of Terrorism Act, which affected a lot of my constituents, was something that was actually criminalising young Irish people mainly in Britain, but also in Northern Ireland, and that there had to be a dialogue. Now, that dialogue did come about. We had the first ceasefire eventually…

AN: But you didn’t play any role in that?

JC: My role was supporting a process which would bring about a dialogue and I believe you have to talk. The British government at that time was putting a broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein, a travel ban on Sinn Fein and a series of anti-terror legislations which were not really doing anything to bring about fair convictions. Remember I was also constituency MP for one of the Guildford Four, Paul Hill, who was the first person arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and eventually was freed.

AN: But that doesn’t mean you had to speak at over 70 hard-line republican movements. Now, you may not have heard of or dealt with Sean O’Callaghan, but you will have heard and met the highly-respected Seamus Mallon. He was one of the architects of the peace process; he was at the heart of it, along with John Hume. Seamus Mann says, quote, he ‘never heard anyone mention Corbyn at all’ in the peace process. That you ‘very clearly took the side of the IRA’ and that that was ‘incompatible with working for peace’. Seamus Mallon.

JC: He never said that to me in parliament.

AN: He said it.

JC: Well, I don’t doubt he said it at some point. I was happy to talk to him and happy to work with him, with John Hume and others in parliament, and I was a member of the Northern Ireland Committee of the PLP in which we visited Northern Ireland and met many people there.

AN: Isn’t the truth is that you’ve basically supported the armed struggle for a united Ireland, but now you want to be Prime Minister you have to distance yourself from it?

JC: No. What I want is peace. What I want is to learn the lessons from Northern Ireland and also to make sure during the Brexit negotiations we don’t return to or receive any kind of hard border between the North and the Republic.

AN: You see, we look at your record and we can’t find evidence of you urging the IRA to put away its guns and bombs. And then we see your Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell – he said he honoured those involved in the IRA’s armed struggle, that was his words. He backed the ‘bombs and the bullets’ – his words. Your Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said, ‘an IRA victory against the British state would be a victory for all of us’. You’ve surrounded yourself with like-minded IRA supporters.

JC: John McDonnell apologised for those remarks on Question Time.

AN: Only because they became public.

JC: Well, he apologised for those remarks. The position –

AN: He made them in 2003.

JC: Andrew, the position has to be that we need peace around the world.

AN: But in 2003 the peace process was well under way and your Shadow Chancellor said he honoured the IRA’s armed struggle.

JC: He withdrew those remarks. He’s apologised for those remarks. I’ve made it very, very clear that I think what’s happened in Northern Ireland – listen, a lot of people lost their lives in Northern Ireland. It was an appalling situation.

AN: The IRA killed 1,800 people.

JC: Yes. And people were killed by Loyalist bombs as well. All deaths are appalling, all deaths are wrong. There isn’t a military solution to a conflict between traditions and communities. There has to be a better way and a better process of doing it.

AN: But most people watching tonight, they won’t know that you were so close to the hard-line republicans and to the apologists for the IRA. Don’t you think they won’t just be surprised, they’d be quite appalled by it?


JC: Andrew, people watching tonight will want to know that they’ve got a government that’s serious about their security and their safety, and also serious about ensuring we look to how we deal with issues in the future. We mentioned Libya a few moments ago. I think we have to look at these issues as the immediate security, the collective security and the longer term foreign policy issues.

AN: If I look at all the IRA atrocities, from the Harrods bomb through to Enniskillen, Lisburn, Omagh, not once is there a record of you condemning that. And every time you voted – 56 times – against giving the security forces more powers. Why would people trust you with our security?

JC: Andrew, on the anti-terrorist legislation that came before parliament I voted to ensure that there was legal oversight of our police and our security services, that there wasn’t executive power given.

AN: You voted 56 times against toughening up our security capabilities.

JC: Can I finish a moment?

AN: Of course.

JC: David Davis and a number of others voted with me on those occasions, because they too were concerned about executive powers and executive orders overriding a court process. And I think the best defence against terrorism, the best defence against any attack on democracy is to protect the independence of a judicial process away from the political process. And the Prevention of Terrorism Act was eventually repealed –

AN: You were just talking about that…

JC: I realise that… Was eventually repealed partly because of the executive powers that were implicit in it.

AN: Let me turn to NATO. It’s the military alliance which all previous Labour and Tory governments think has kept this nation and the West safe for more than seven decades. It was created by a Labour government. But you’ve called NATO ‘a very dangerous Frankenstein of an organisation’, ‘a danger to world peace’. Two years ago you said it should be ‘wound up’. Do you still believe that?

JC: What I’ve always believed is that NATO was a product in 1948 of the awful trajectory of the Cold War. We had the Warsaw Pact which was formed a little bit later on one side, NATO on the other. 1990, Berlin Wall came down – end of –

AN: Should it be wound up?

JC: – end of the Soviet Union. I thought at that point, when we were into a process of rapprochement across Europe, Gorbachev and a common European home, maybe that was the time for the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe to take over. Sadly, that didn’t happen. I think the role of NATO now had to be to build good relations with the neighbours and insist on democracy and human rights being part of that agenda of good relations.

AN: But it was only three years ago you called it ‘a very dangerous Frankenstein’ and ‘a danger to world peace’. Do you still believe that, or not?

JC: I want to work within NATO to achieve stability. I want to work within NATO to promote a human rights democracy and under a Labour government that’s exactly what we’d be doing.

AN: But do you think it’s a ‘Frankenstein’?

JC: I think all organisations need to be accountable.

AN: So have you changed your views on NATO?

JC: No. What I’ve done – no, no.

AN: So you still think it’s a danger to world peace?
JC: Can I finish my sentence, please? Thank you.

AN: You could if you could answer my question.

JC: Andrew, NATO exists. It was a product initially of the Atlantic Charter in 1942, it then became –

AN: We know the history, Mr Corbyn. I’m trying to work out if you would be a committed supporter of NATO as every previous Prime Minister of this country has been?

JC: I will be a committed member of that alliance in order to promote peace, justice, human rights and democracy. And I believe that we can make a positive contribution on that.

AN: Let’s turn to nuclear weapons, ‘cause you’re a lifelong campaigner for unilateral nuclear disarmament. So under your leadership Labour’s support for the renewal of the Trident deterrent, it’s not credible, is it?

JC: That’s what the Labour Conference and that’s what Parliament has decided to do. I will also ensure that we play a full part in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to bring about multilateral nuclear disarmament around the world, but we will also have a security review to look at the other issues that we face such as the cyber threat, which was obviously very serious to our National Health Service only a week ago, as well as of course the issues that have come to the front because of the tragedy of Manchester last week.

AN: Let’s clarify Trident. Do you support the renewal of the Trident deterrent?

JC: It’s there in the programme and therefore it’s …

AN: It’s not what I asked you, Mr Corbyn. Do you support the renewal of Trident?

JC: I voted against the renewal. Everybody knows that because I wanted to go in a different direction. That is the decision that’s been taken; I respect that decision going ahead.

AN: But can you tell the British people tonight that you support the renewal of Trident?

JC: We’re going ahead with the programme which has been agreed by Parliament and voted on by the Labour Party.

AN: Do you support it?

JC: Listen. My views on nuclear weapons are well-known. I want to achieve a nuclear free world through multilateral disarmament through the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

AN: So you don’t support it?

JC: What I support is a nuclear free world. What I want to do is bring about peace. I also want us to focus on what I believe to be serious threats which I mentioned, cyber security and terrorism.

AN: I understand all that but we need a simple answer to a simple question.
JC: You’ve had the answer.

AN: You cannot say – you cannot say to the British people tonight that I, Jeremy Corbyn, will support the renewal of Trident, can you?

JC: It’s there in the programme; it’s there in the Manifesto. it will be carried out.

AN: But you can’t bring yourself to say that.

JC: And what we’re going to is pursue that and at the same time negotiate multilateral disarmament and a nuclear free – Listen, do we really want to live in a world where there’s a danger of a nuclear holocaust? No, we don’t.

AN: So why don’t you say you’re against it?

JC: I’ve made the point of the position that we are adopting as a party and we will take into government.

AN: Will the Defence Review that you want to call if you become Prime Minister, will that include Trident?

JC: It will look at the role of nuclear weapons as it will look at everything. It will look at –

AN: So you could ditch it right away, couldn’t you?
JC: It will look at the totality, as every other government assuming office has had a Strategic Defence Review. There are many in our – senior people in our armed forces who also want us to focus as well on issues that I’ve mentioned of cyber security and terrorism.

AN: I understand that, but let’s just clarify this tonight. You cannot tell the British people that you are in favour of the renewal of Trident, but you do want a Defence Review and that will include Trident and you could get rid of it.

JC: It would include the role of nuclear weapons and the role of other –

AN: So you could get rid of it?

JC: Listen, it’s there in the programme what’s going ahead.

AN: Let’s turn to domestic policy. Unemployment’s now at a 40 year low. We are one of the fastest growing major advanced economies. Companies have flocked to invest in the United Kingdom, but you’re now promising a massive spending binge. It’s to be funded by more borrowing and huge tax rises on the very businesses and people that have helped to create over 2 million extra jobs. Don’t you risk our economic recovery?

JC: 95% of the population will pay no more tax under Labour – no more National Insurance and no higher VAT. What we have is a country where six million people earn less than the living wage. We have a country where there are unprecedented waiting times and waiting lists in our hospitals. A million people denied social care and an increasing number of people sleeping on our streets. This has to be the time that we stop making the poorest in our society pay the price of austerity and start investing for the future. What we’re proposing is an Investment Bank which will invest in all parts of this country, particularly those areas that have seen precious little investment since the end of the coal industry and in some places the end of the steel industry.

AN: You say 95% of the country won’t pay extra income tax, extra taxes, but the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which is a pretty independent arbitrator of these things at elections, says there is no way that tens of billions of pounds of tax rises would affect only a small group at the very top. No way. They say your plans quote ‘would not work”.

JC: No, they haven’t said in terms they will not work.

AN: They did say they would not work, Mr Corbyn.

JC: They have looked at our programme, they have been through the funding of it and I’m pleased they have – and they’ve done the same by the way with the Conservatives – and what they’re saying is you would have to collect your new taxes as well as the increase in Corporation Tax, obviously. You would have to be assiduous in chasing down tax evasion, obviously. What they’ve also said is that our investment, our investment would bring about a better society and a more harmonious society.

AN: They said that you cannot bring –

JC: That’s surely the prize worth doing.

AN: They said that you’re going for the highest ever peacetime level of taxation. The highest ever.

JC: Well, they’re not correct on that actually because the level of Corporation Tax we’re proposing to go to would be 26% which is actually less than it was in 2010.

AN: No, they’re talking about the overall level of taxation would be the highest ever in peacetime under a Corbyn government.

JC: I dispute that figure actually, but okay, we’ll have that debate with the IFS. But I say to you, this election is about a choice. And the choice is this: Do we continue under-funding health, expect head teachers to collect from the parents to pay the teachers? Do we continue with the horrors of unfunded social care and the waiting list for social care? Do we continue with a housing crisis that affects the homeless right through to the more middle classes whose children can’t find somewhere to live? Or do we invest for the future?

AN: Indeed.

JC: Our offer is we will invest for the future. Invest in the future of our children.

AN: And part of the investing in the future you plan to borrow a lot to do that. How much will you borrow?

JC: What we will do is for the public ownership elements there’ll be an exchange for bonds for shares in it.

AN: What’s a bond?

JC: A government bond?

AN: Yes, it’s a debt instrument. It’s borrowing.

JC: Well, it’s a bond – is a government bond which would be serviced by the income from that service, but in addition we would have control of it.

AN: But you would still have to borrow. Bonds are borrowing. You would borrow.

JC: Take the water industry, for example, which has been a method of siphoning off profits out of this country to offshore companies that made a lot of money at the same time leaving us with expensive water and in some cases very bad levels of pollution.

AN: You would need to borrow – I understand the case but you would need to borrow to buy the utilities.

JC: No, it’s not. It’s a swap of the shares for a government bond.

AN: But if you’re issuing bonds, Mr Corbyn, you’re issuing government debt. You are borrowing.

JC: Issuing bonds that we own which would be paid for by the profits from the industries, so instead of the profits –

AN: You’ve said you would cut the water utilities’ profits. That means you wouldn’t have the money to pay for the bonds.

JC: Instead of the profits being siphoned off they would remain here. That’s an advantage, surely.

AN: National debt’s already an incredible 1.7 trillion. If you borrow to invest on top of the 50 we do, another 25 you say, you need to borrow to nationalise, you may have to borrow if the IFS is right for day to day spending.

JC: No, we’re absolutely clear we will not borrow for day to day spending.

AN: But you might have to if the IFS is right. Our national debt, which has already soared under the current government would soar even more under Labour, wouldn’t it?

JC: No, because we have the rule that we would only borrow to invest for the future. We would not borrow for revenue expenditure. I mean that’s sort of a sensible rule which has not always been followed.

AN: A technical rise…

JC: And what we’d get in return is investment in better services; that in turn would encourage economic growth. Listen, we have a huge imbalance of investment. Far too much goes to London and the south east in transport infrastructure. Far too little goes to the north east, north west and Yorkshire. Those issues have to be addressed. Hence the National Investment Bank which will be regionally based all across the UK.

AN: For people watching tonight who want the government, they’re looking for the government, to reduce immigration numbers. Labour’s not the party and you’re not the leader to deliver that, are you?

JC: We are in favour of managed immigration when the free movement ends when we leave the European Union. We are against people being brought in as wholesale workforces to undermine existing working conditions and workers. There will be managed migration in the future based – based on –

AN: Will you be cutting immigration?

JC: Based on the economic needs of our society. We’ve had Theresa May promising in three elections to make cuts to immigration. I’m making no promises on that. What I’m saying is the immigration issue would be dealt with on the basis of necessary family reunions and also the economic needs of the country as a whole.

AN: Would you try to cut the numbers?

JC: Well, if the economy is doing well and we train people properly then the need to bring in skilled workers from overseas will obviously reduce.

AN: Mr Corbyn, many voters in this election it will be the first time they’ve had a chance to look at you as a potential Prime Minister. You’ve been a backbencher for most of your life, never a government minister.

JC: It’s an honourable position.

AN: Indeed it is. So how should people judge you? Should they listen to those who would know you best, your own MPs? Because your own backbenchers – John Woodcock, a Labour MP, says ‘I will not countenance ever voting to make Jeremy Corbyn Britain’s Prime Minister.’ Neil Coyle, a Labour MP, says ‘the reason why lifelong Labour voters aren’t backing us is Jeremy Corbyn’. Alan Johnson, former Labour Home Secretary, says ‘you’re useless, incompetent and incapable’. That’s the people that know you.

JC: Listen, this Manifesto has been agreed by everyone in our party. This Manifesto has enormous levels of public support. This Manifesto has been campaigned for day in day out on the streets of this country, and d’you know what, people like the contents of it because it offers them hope. It offers them opportunity. It offers our young people an opportunity to get the education they want, to get the skilled jobs that they want and it offers hope in the sense of community cohesion. And I invite everyone to have a look at the policies and decide what they are –

AN: Of course and they will and the policies are there but the people and the leader matters as well and what I’m trying to say is should the people who don’t know you listen to those who do and follow these judgements?

JC: I would hope that people would judge me and our party on the basis of the principles we’re putting forward in this election. An investment for our future, a better future for younger people in our society. Proper treatment of those that need help and care and support through a social care system, and an education system that doesn’t undermine our children with lack of funding. And I say to them –

AN: So people want all these. I’ve just got one final question for you on this.

JC: – and I say to them listen, I’ve spent my life in politics trying to get social justice for everybody –

AN: Of course you have.

JC: – and I relish the opportunity of doing the same in government.

AN: And of course you do, but why should the voters trust you when so many even of your own MPs don’t trust you?

JC: Well, you could have quite easily got quotes from a number of people who would say positive things.

AN: Not nearly as many.

JC: No, you chose not to.

AN: 180 had no confidence in you.

JC: You chose not to do that and that, Andrew is your choice.

AN: And it will be the choice of the people on June 8th. Jeremy Corbyn, thank you.

Transcript courtesy of The Andrew Neil interviews, BBC One

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