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Coffee House General Election 2017

Andrew Neil interviews Theresa May: full transcript

AN: Prime Minister, you started this campaign with a huge double digit lead in the polls, it’s now down to single digits in some polls. What’s gone wrong?

PM: Well, Andrew, there’s only one poll that counts in any election campaign, as I’m sure you know from your long experience, and that’s the one that takes place on the 8th June when people have actually cast their votes, where they’ve made that choice, which is a crucial choice. I think this genuinely is the most crucial election I’ve seen in my lifetime, because it’s about getting Brexit negotiations right, getting the right deal for Britain from Europe, and going beyond that, a plan for a stronger Britain for the future. And I believe that I’ve set out my vision for that strength in negotiations and that stronger plan. And the choice is who’s going to be doing those negotiations, me or Jeremy Corbyn.

AN: So why do you think your lead has narrowed?

PM: Well, as I say, the only poll that counts is the one that actually takes place on the 8th June. And what I’m doing, what I and my team are doing, is going out around the country talking to people, hearing from them, and talking to them about this crucial choice that the country will face on the 8th June. Because, you know, so much depends on us getting those Brexit negotiations right. It’s not just the next five years but it’s beyond the next five years, our standard of living, our place in the world. And you need a strong hand in those negotiations and you need strength in those negotiations. As I say, there’s only going to be a choice between two people as to who’s sitting opposite those 27 European countries, me or Jeremy Corbyn.

AN: But could you be in a little bit of trouble now, because you were so sure of winning that you thought you could get away with a lot of uncosted and half-baked policies?

PM: No, I’ve never taken anything for granted about this election. I called this election because I think it is important that the country has certainty over the next five years, has the strong and stable leadership I think it needs, as I’ve just explained, particularly for those Brexit negotiations. And what I saw was that other parties were trying to frustrate and promising to try to frustrate those Brexit negotiations. So I thought it was right to call an election and ask people to make that choice.

AN: But your policies are uncosted and half-baked aren’t they?

PM: No, what we have set out in the manifesto is a series of policies which address what I see, and I think are the five great challenges that we face as a country. What I’ve tried to be is to show people that actually if we’re going to build that stronger Britain we’ve got to be willing to face up to these challenges and fix them.

AN: Well, let’s look at social care for the elderly. Four days ago your manifesto rejected a cap on social care costs, today you announced a cap. That sounds pretty half-baked.

PM: No. Nothing has changed from the principles on social care policy that we set out in our manifesto. Let me just explain, if I may, why I think it’s important, why this is one of the great challenges that we face – our aging society. Just one figure: in ten years’ time there will be two million more people over the age of 75. Now, our social care system will collapse unless we do something about it. We could try and pretend the problem isn’t there and hope that it will go away, but it won’t. It will grow each year. We could play politics with it, as the Labour Party is doing. Or we could show how we can fix it. And that’s what I’ve done.

AN: But you say nothing has changed. Jeremy Hunt, on the day you launched your manifesto, last Thursday, the Health Secretary, he said, ‘yes, we are dropping the cap and we’re being completely explicit in our manifesto, we’re dropping it. We don’t think it’s fair.’ Today you announced a cap.

PM: And Jeremy was talking about the – of course, Andrew Dilnot had brought forward previous proposals for a cap. But Jeremy also went on to say that what we wanted to have was a system that was fair to taxpayers, that was fair to all generations, and that’s what we’re doing.

AN: But it’s a cap, Prime Minister. Your manifesto rejects a cap. It gives a reason why you don’t want a cap. Now you’re going to have a cap. You need to be honest, I would suggest and tell the British people you’ve changed your mind.

PM: What I’m doing – first of all, Andrew, I’m being absolutely honest with the British people about the big challenge that we face. And absolutely honest with them about the need for us to deal with this now, to start fixing it now. Now, what I’ve put forward is a social care policy which means that people won’t have to worry if they’re sitting there, you know, month after month worrying about money coming out of their bank accounts to pay for their care and worrying how long that will last. They won’t have to worry because they won’t have to be paying during their lifetime. They won’t have to worry that they’re going to have to sell their house during their lifetime. And they’ll be able to pass £100,000 on to their families when they die. At least that’s a protected £100,000. What I’ve done today is I’ve seen the scaremongering, frankly, that we’ve seen over the weekend. I’ve seen the way that Jeremy Corbyn wants to sneak into Number 10 by playing on the fears of older and vulnerable people, and I’ve clarified what we will be putting in the Green Paper which I set out in the manifesto.

AN: So Jeremy Corbyn is now rewriting your manifesto?

PM: No, not at all.

James Forsyth, Katy Balls and Lara Prendergast discuss Andrew Neil’s interview with Theresa May

AN: Well, that’s what it sounds like. You’ve reacted to him.

PM: No, we haven’t. Andrew, we have not rewritten the manifesto. The principles on which we have based our social care policy remain absolutely the same. We need to ensure that we have long term sustainability in social care. We need to be able to ensure we can fund social care for the future. We’re doing the honest thing about putting a proposal to the British people, and they will make their choice on that.

AN: To be honest, Prime Minister, to reject a cap in your manifesto and four days later say we’re going to have a cap, what’s honest about that?

PM: What we set out in our manifesto was a series of principles. It was to say to people first of all this is a big issue, we need to address it, and we are being honest that we must fix it, and that’s what I want to do. I’m not going to bury my head in the sand, I’m not going to play politics with it, which is what Jeremy Corbyn is doing.

AN: You’re just going to change your mind.

PM: I’m going to fix it. What I’ve seen is that people have been worried by some of the things that the Labour Party has been claiming, and others indeed, the Liberal Democrats too, about what our policy means. In some cases the complete opposite of what I want to see.

AN: When Labour said you were against a cap they were right until today. You were against a cap.

PM: What we have done is clarified what will be in this Green Paper. We were very clear, here’s our social care policy, here is what we’re doing, we want to protect people, we want people not to have the worry, day to day, about being able to pay for their social care. That’s why we’re fixing this problem. That’s why we’re putting this into place. What I have said today is I’ve heard the scaremongering, I’ve seen how Labour want to try to sneak into Number 10. Jeremy Corbyn wants to try to get into Number 10 by playing on fears, by misrepresenting our policy. What we are doing is ensuring people will not have to sell their house during their lifetime. They won’t have to worry about those monthly bills for their care. They’ll be able to protect more money than they have been before.

AN: But it’s a cap on lifetime social cost, which worries people as well. I mean, this must be the first time in modern history that a party’s actually broken a manifesto policy before the election.

PM: No. What we have done, Andrew, I set out in my manifesto the challenges that we need to address as a government. And I’ve been very clear with people. You know, there are two ways that you can approach this issue. You can say to people, this is – we have an aging society, our system will collapse unless we do something about it. That’s what I’m saying. You can ignore it, you can put your head in the sand, or you could try and play politics with it. I think it’s only fair to people to say that it is a problem and we need to fix it now. That’s what I want to do. I want to fix it. So people don’t have the worry about their social care costs.

AN: Alright, now that you’re in favour of a cap, can you give us an idea of what the cap might be, the amount we’ll have to pay for social care?

PM: What we’re going to do, as we said in our manifesto, is publish – we referred to a Green Paper, of course the Green Paper, many people may not realise a Green Paper is a consultation, so we want to take people’s views, the views of charities, the views of others on how the system should be operating. What I’ve said today is that we will have within that consultation that concept of an absolute limit on the cost that people have to pay. So we’re protecting people for the future and we’re providing a system that provides sustainability in our social care for the future. And we’ve got an aging population, we need to do this, otherwise our system will collapse.

AN: Why did you not put the consultation on a cap in your manifesto? Instead your manifesto rejects a cap.

PM: No. What we’ve put in the manifesto is that we will have a consultation and the principles on which our social care policy will be based. That I think was the right thing to do. Now, we will have, if we’re re-elected, we will have that consultation. But I think the key issue is that there’s a choice here between parties, there’s a choice between Jeremy Corbyn, who is playing politics with this, doesn’t want to address this issue of an aging society –

AN: You’re not playing politics with this, Prime Minister?

PM: No, I’m not.

AN: You came out against a cap, you’re now in favour of a cap because of the backlash – that’s not playing politics?

PM: No. Andrew, what I worry about is the way in which there have been fake claims about our policy, which are deliberately trying to scare old and vulnerable people. What I’ve done is addressed that issue today. And I’m very clear that whoever is in government, whoever’s Prime Minister, whether it’s me or Jeremy Corbyn, we need to address this issue, we need to fix it, and that’s what I’m going to do.

AN: Alright, let me move on now, because many people have said your manifesto’s quite vague when it comes to how you’re going to pay for your spending pledges. So let’s see if we can get some clarity tonight. How are you going to pay for the extra £8 billion for the NHS?

PM: Andrew, when I go around the country and talk to people about what we’re going to do in government, what people want to know is are we actually going to have the strong economy that enables us to pay for the NHS and pay for the public services that people want? Now, in our manifesto we’ve put some examples of how we’re going to change the way money is used. On winter fuel payments, for example, we will means test that. That money will go into health and social care.

AN: But how do get the extra money for the NHS? Where will the extra 8 billion come from?

PM: Andrew, what we have done, if you look at our record, is shown that we can put record sums of money into the National Health Service at the same time as we’re ensuring that we’re building that strong economy. And that’s what we’ll do for the future. Our economic credibility is not in doubt. It’s the Labour Party who’s in the dock when it comes to responsibility.

AN: Your ability to answer this question may be in doubt, Prime Minister. Let me try one more time. Where will the extra 8 billion for the NHS come from?

PM: What we have done over the last six years, six-seven years, and what we will do in the future is ensure that we have the strong economy, the growing economy that enables us to generate the funds to put into our public services. I’ve identified in the manifesto some specific areas where we will change the way in which money is being used, and I’ve just referenced winter fuel.

AN: But that’s not extra money, that’s moving the money around.

PM: Yes, that’s what I’m saying. I’ve identified –

AN: So it’s not an extra 8 billion?

PM: Oh, it is an extra 8 billion that is going to go into the National Health Service, but I’ve identified some areas where we will be changing the way money is used, but crucially what you need to do be able to ensure that you can fund the NHS is the strong and growing economy. As I say, our economic credibility is not on the line, it’s the Labour Party that’s in the dock on that.

AN: Well, the Labour Party have given us costings and given us revenues, you can’t give me. Let me ask another way, is it all new money?

PM: The Labour Party have given you costings which actually don’t add up. There’s a £58 billion black hole in the Labour Party manifesto. That’s the equivalent of half the sum we spend on the NHS in a year. What we will do is ensure that we generate by ensuring we have a strong economy and growth in the economy, we generate funds. And just look at our track record. It’s what we’ve done over the last few years.

AN: Is the 8 billion all new money?

PM: There will be 8 billion more money going into the National Health Service at the end of the parliament. That’s a real terms increase per head every year.

AN: The manifesto pledges, quote, ‘the most ambitious programme on investment and buildings and technology the NHS has ever seen’. Is that part of the 8 billion?

PM: No, that’s a separate, because it’s the money that you spend on, as I’m sure you know, Andrew, the money you spend on buildings and capital is separate from the money you spend on the day to day running costs. So that money will be following. There’s a report that was done on the NHS, the Naylor Report, which set out what was needed and we’re backing the proposals in the Naylor Report.

AN: So how much?

PM: It’s £10 billion.

AN: And where will that come from?

PM: That will come from a variety of sources, it’s capital money, it’s separate from the 8 billion that’s going into National Health Service. But any of this money can only be provided if we’ve got the strong economy to fund it. And that’s where one of the crucial differences between what I’m proposing and what the Labour Party is proposing comes, because what I’m setting out in my manifesto is the ways in which we can deal with the economy in the future. And crucial to that, crucial to that, is getting the Brexit negotiations right, and that’s why this is so important. That’s why who is sitting around that negotiating table, 11 days after the election it’s going to start.

AN: That’s a point you’ve made, Prime Minister.

PM: I made it again because it’s important.

AN: But let me come back to the NHS. Our hospitals have just endured their worst 12 months in ten years. A record number of urgent operations were cancelled, a string of targets, from emergency care to routine care, to cancer care, have been missed. What you’re promising is too little too late.

PM: No. And I accept that the NHS has missed some of its targets, but let’s look at – and targets aren’t the be all and end all. What matters actually is the quality of patient care. And let me just give you an example. You mentioned the emergency, Accident and Emergency targets and yes, we did see pressure on A&E over the winter. Now what matters is not that you tick a box on a target. What matters is you say what does that tell us that we need to do. And that’s why we’ve already announced that we’re going to make some changes. We’ve put in some extra money already into Accident and Emergency in hospitals around the country, because what we see is sometimes people turn up at A&E who don’t need to go into hospital, they need to see a GP, and by changing the way A&E operates we can actually ensure that the patient gets the care that they need and that we’re seeing hospitals relieved from some of that pressure. That’s about ensuring that patient care is what comes first and that’s what we’re about.

AN: You’ve ruled out a rise in VAT, but not National Insurance or income tax. Why?

PM: Because I want to be very clear that as a Conservative Party in government, as we always have been, we’re a party that believes in lower taxes. I have every intention of reducing taxes on businesses and working families. But I want to ensure that when we do that we’re able to do that in a sustainable way.

AN: So National Insurance and income tax could go up?

PM: No. I’m very clear that it is our intention to reduce taxes and when – and when people –

AN: But you haven’t ruled out rises in these two taxes.

PM: When people come to make their choice on June 8th they will see a choice between a Conservative Party that’s always been a party of lower tax, has believed in lower tax – and indeed has –

AN: Except the tax burden is now the highest for 30 years under your government.

PM: And under my government –

AN: The highest.

PM: – under the Conservative government since 2010 we’ve seen four million people taken out of paying income tax altogether and a tax cut for 31 million tax payers. We believe in lower taxes but we also believe in ensuring that we’re developing the strong economy that enables us to fund our public services.

AN: You tried to raise National Insurance for the self employed in the Budget a couple of months ago, you were forced to retreat. Can you rule out that you’ll try that again?

PM: We said we were taking those plans off the table. We have asked Matthew Taylor to do a report on the new forms of employment and we will look at the results of that report when it comes in –

AN: So National Insurance could go up?

PM: – when it comes in, but we’ve removed the proposals that we put in the Budget, we’ve removed those from the table.

AN: But you could bring them back.

PM: We need to look at how the employment market is working at the moment. That’s why I’m very clear that I want to put in extra protections for workers. I think things are changing in the way people are being employed and we need to ensure that we recognise that and protect workers. But in all of these issues we can only do these things, we can only make sure that we’re able to lower taxes, we’ve got the strong economy. Fundamental to that of course is getting the Brexit deal right and getting those negotiations right and having both a strong hand in those negotiations but also the strength of leadership in those negotiations.

AN: I understand. That’s a point you’ve made several times. I want to come on to the Just About Managing. People who are just about managing. They’re not the poorest of the poor but they’re not that affluent either. Life can be a bit of a struggle. You say you’re on their side but inflation is now rising faster than average pay so living standards are being squeezed and you’ve frozen their in-work benefits for almost 7 million people. In what way are you on their side?

PM: Well if you look at the issues around people who are – as you say I mean I talked about people who were ‘just about managing,’ who sometimes find life a struggle when I came into Downing Street last year and there are a number of ways in which I want to support those people. On the cost of living, what I want to see is building a strong economy with higher paid jobs. I always want to help them with things like energy bills and that’s why we’re going to cap rip off energy price rises. But there are other things –

AN: But they’re squeezed an income at the moment. In what way are you on their side? You’ve taken away £280 a year from their in work benefits because of the freeze. How is that being on their side?

PM: Being on their side is about a whole variety of actions that we’re taking.

AN: Not taking money away.

PM: These are people – these are people who want to ensure that their children have a good school place. That’s why we have plans to increase the number of good school places. They do want to ensure that their NHS is being funded, that’s why we have plans to ensure that we’re putting those record amounts of money into the National Health Service. They want more secure jobs. That’s why building a strong economy –

AN: They would like better pay. They’d like their living standards to be rising. You’re squeezing them.

PM: I want to see – I want to see higher paid jobs in this country. Doing that is about building a stronger economy. It’s about having a vision for the future, that’s what we’ve got. We’ve set out a draft industrial strategy, a modern industrial strategy to really develop the economy across all parts of the country so that we don’t see prosperity concentrated in certain areas. But prosperity across the whole country.

AN: How many pensioners will lose their winter fuel allowance?

PM: We are – we will means test winter fuel allowance but once again we will consult, we will ask people, charities, organisations at what level that should be set.

AN: So you don’t know. Pensioners watching tonight, they won’t know. The very rich they’re going lose, that’s clear. The very poor will probably keep it, but the vast in between you cannot tell them tonight whether they’ll get up to £300 or not this coming winter.

PM: What we are doing is going to ensure that the least well off pensioners will have their winter fuel payments protected, but yes we will consult. I think it’s right that we take those views of people, of charities, of organisations working with older people and others to look at where that level should be set. But overall in the changes that we’re making and in the policies we’re adopting what I want to do and what I’m going to do is to be protecting pensioners for the future.

AN: But you can’t tell them tonight or not whether they’re going to get their winter fuel allowance or not. It’s a vague promise, uncosted, you don’t know.

PM: What I’ve said is that we will means test winter fuel payments. This is something people –

AN: But asking you where, how will you do it?

PM: – yes and I’ve also answered that what we’re doing, Andrew, is going to be talking to people about this. Asking their views on where this should be set, not just setting it here in the studio in the Andrew Neil Interview, but actually talking to charities and organisations and consulting on it.

AN: Wouldn’t you have done that before you came out with the policy?

PM: Overall we will be protecting pensioners.

AN: You’ve promised twice to reduce immigration to the 10s of thousands and twice you failed. Why should we believe you a third time?

PM: What we have done is ensured that we are working to reduce immigration and crucially of course we will, when we leave the European Union, have the opportunity and the ability to deal with the figures to bring in rules for those who are coming from the European Union countries into the United Kingdom.

AN: But you’ve always had that power. You’ve always had that power with non-EU migration and you’ve never managed to get that down to the 10s of thousands. Even the bit you’ve controlled you haven’t managed to control.

PM: We’ve seen it come down and we have seen it –

AN: It’s still away above 10s of thousands.

PM: – and we have seen it go up. But there’s a very – there’s a very real choice here on the 8th of June. It’s between me and my party who believe that we should work to control immigration and Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party who believe that you should have uncontrolled immigration. That’s the choice that will be there before people. We will continue to work to bring net migration down because we believe it does have an impact on people.

AN: But you’re not bringing it down.

PM: Well the latest figures –

AN: Net migration is higher now than it was when you came to power in 2010.

PM: And the latest figures did see a fall, but you’re right, we haven’t got down –

AN: Still high.

PM: – we haven’t got down to the 10s of thousands. We will be able to introduce rules for people coming from inside the European Union when we leave the European Union, but this is an area in immigration as I’ve said many times before, where you have to be consistently working at it. That includes looking at non-EU migration as well as EU migration in the future.

AN: Doesn’t this go to the heart, Prime Minister, of why people have lost trust in politicians? You make promises, you fail to keep them, but you just make the same promise again.

PM: Well, Andrew, I – I called an election several weeks ago, I called an election on this whole issue of trust, because the question that people face is who do they trust to take this country though the Brexit negotiations? Who do they trust to face up to the Presidents, the Prime Ministers, the Chancellors of Europe and the European Commission? Who do they trust to get the best deal for the UK? They have to decide, ‘cause it’s only going to be one of two people. It’s either me or Jeremy Corbyn. And the question for everybody on the 8th of June is who do they trust to get the deal for the UK.

AN: The Conservatives promise to end the budget deficit by 2015 is now going to be 2025 at the earliest. You promised to reduce migration to the 10s of thousands. It’s still 273,000. On these two big issues you failed to meet your promises, why would we trust the Tories on anything else?

PM: Well as I say the election will be about trust. Yes, we have – we’re still the party that wants to ensure that we bring that deficit down. We’ve brought it down by three-quarters. So we’ve been doing that work and we will continue to work on that. Sharp contrast with the Labour Party that wants to significantly increase borrowing and with a leader who says that he doesn’t seem to mind about debt and the deficit. But this election –

AN: But these are big issues, Prime Minister. The budget deficit, how we spend and borrow and tax. The immigration which was a huge issue as you will know on the Brexit campaign and so on, on these two major issues you have failed to keep your promises.

PM: And on these two major issues they are ones that are in sharp contrast with the Labour Party. We are continuing to work to deliver what I believe ordinary people want. I mean immigration was one of the issues that underpinned that Brexit vote.

AN: Indeed.

PM: And that’s why I come back to the point I made earlier about the election being a matter of trust. And it crucially is who do people trust to sit around that table in those Brexit negotiations and bring home the best deal for the UK?

AN: George Osborne says not a single senior member of your Cabinet supports the immigration target. Is that true?

PM: No. (laughing) Look, this immigration target is one that we have had over the years, since 2010. In fact it was developed when the – under David Cameron’s leadership in Opposition. We’ve brought it through. What we do on the immigration –

AN: He said nobody supports in your Cabinet.

PM: People do support the immigration target and what they’re supporting is the view of the British people. That’s what we’re supporting. Because the British people want to see us controlling migration. We have brought in new rules. We’ve ruled out a lot of abuse that was taking place in the system, but you have consistently to work at that. We’ll get the ability to work at it in relation to the numbers of people coming from the EU, but we’re the party – it’s me and my party, me and my team, that are committed to saying we want to control migration, whereas Labour want uncontrolled migration.

AN: You said last week that Britain faces, I quote: “dire consequences” if we fail to get a good deal in the Brexit talks for leaving the EU. What sort of “dire consequences?”

PM: Well I think if you look at what is being said around the whole question of Brexit negotiations you’ve got in the – some people in the European Union talking about punishing the United Kingdom. You’ve got some people here in the UK who are saying that it doesn’t really matter what we – what we do and we’re just going to get any old deal and that’s all that we need to do. For our future –

AN: What were the “dire consequences.” If we don’t get a deal what will the “dire consequences” be?

PM: Well I’ve said that no deal is better than a bad deal.

AN: So it’s not dire?

PM: Because I believe that, as I’ve just said, there are some people here who are willing to sign up to any deal. What I want to do – the reason I think, the reason I’ve said what you’ve quoted, and the reason I think this is such a crucial part of the question that underpins this election is that we need to get Brexit right in setting the tone for the next, not just five years but actually for the future. It’s about our economy, it’s about all the things that we want to do in terms of ensuring we work with our European partners.

AN: But you haven’t told us what – I don’t understand why no deal can be better than a bad deal, but no deal would also mean “dire consequences” and you haven’t told us what the consequences would be.

PM: We want to make sure that we get a good deal which ensures that we can build our economy. I’ve explained why no deal is better than a bad deal because a bad deal is one, as I say, there are those in Europe who want to punish us and there are those here, politicians here in the United Kingdom who are willing to sign up to anything. Now I’m not that politician –

AN: I understand that, but you’re now saying that no deal – you’re now saying no deal means “dire consequences” and I’m trying to find out how dire the consequences will be.

PM: What I have every confidence is that we will be able to negotiate a good deal with the right negotiating hand, with the strength of mandate behind us to take into those negotiations and that’s what I want to do. That’s why the choice on the 8th of June is so important for people because –

AN: And if you win on June 8th, Prime Minister – if you win, how long will you stay Prime Minister?

PM: Well I’m Prime Minister until the 8th of June, then I hope that people will feel that they can support me –

AN: And how long will you stay?

PM: – for me to be Prime Minister for the next term.

AM: You’ll stay for the next Parliament?

PM: I will definitely stay for the next Parliament. Beyond that, Andrew – I mean this is – I haven’t got through this election yet. I’m focusing on this election. It’s really important. It’s the most crucial in my lifetime, it’s about the future of our country and who people trust to take us forward in the future.

AM: Prime Minister, thank you.

(Transcript via BBC)

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