Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has all but confirmed that the party is committed to leaving the single market. Here’s the full transcript of his interview with Robert Peston this morning:
RP: I’m joined by the shadow chancellor, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest confidants. Very good to see you, John McDonnell. John, first of all, if I could just start with where you go in parliament now. On Friday morning, you were talking in pretty explicit terms about how you thought you could end up in power even without a general election. How would that work?
JM: Well, we put forward the proposal which was nothing special. It was forming a minority government which would mean, basically, that we would set out our policies based upon our manifesto and form a government on that basis, put them before parliament and it’s exactly as Caroline [Flint] was just saying…
RP: Do you think there’s any chance of that?
JM: Well, I think the Conservatives are in such disarray and any form of relationship with the DUP is bound to be inherently unstable and I think what the country is looking for now is a government that will lead them on the basis of facing up to the challenges that we set out in our manifesto.
RP: And just to be clear, you really don’t want to have negotiations with the SNP or the Liberal Democrats about a more formal alliance?
JM: No, no deals, no coalitions. It’s better for us to say, look, this is our manifesto, this is what we want to implement, honestly and straightforwardly, and put that before parliament and we’ll do that issue by issue.
RP: What worries you about a more formal deal?
JM: Because, I think the electorate want to vote for a party and they want that party in government. They don’t want backroom deals etc. They want honest, straightforward talking…
RP: As I said to Caroline, when you look at your economic policy, it’s very similar to the SNP’s in many ways.
JM: Well, when we put our policies forward, if they wish to vote for it that’s for them. But there’ll be a whole range of issues in the coming parliament. It’s exactly as Caroline has said, we’ll be putting forward our policies and if we can secure a majority for that, which I think we can on many of them, so much the better. But it would be better if we were in government to do that. Now, I cannot see, I cannot see…pardon me using this phrase, but this coalition of chaos, both within the Conservative Party and in these negotiations with the DUP, I cannot see that being stable. I can’t see it holding together.
RP: Now, we’ve got the Queen’s Speech, certainly at the moment, still scheduled for Monday week, you’re going to amend that. Can you tell us about your amendments?
JM: We’re still discussing that and we’ll be consulting colleagues across the Parliamentary Labour Party…
RP: But what territory will it be in?
JM: Well, what we’ll do is we’ll try to extract some of the main elements of our manifesto and present that as an amendment to the Queen’s Speech. Part of this is about having a debate and then when the legislative flow comes from that we’ll be ensuring that there are votes on those individual issues. It’s exactly as Caroline said. On winter fuel allowance, for example, well we think there’s a majority in parliament, even within the Conservative Party there are quite a few Conservative MPs who’ll say this is unacceptable. The triple lock, exactly the same. The bedroom tax, I believe the DUP are in favour of scrapping the bedroom tax. There’s a whole range of issues like that where we there’ll be a majority in parliament.
RP: Now, your position would be a lot stronger if Sinn Féin took up their seats in the Commons. Would you urge them to reconsider their boycott?
JM: You know the Irish history like me. There is no prospect of Sinn Féin taking up their seats…
RP: So, it’s not worth having the conversation?
JM: It’s not even worth raising the issue. It’s deeply ingrained in the tradition of that party and its political position. There is no point in even raising it.
RP: Now Caroline, like many MPs on your side, has said to me that they got Jeremy Corbyn wrong, they made a mistake about, you know, they spent months and months and months saying he was a loser and they now accept that that’s not the case. If there’s bridge-building between the sort of right of the Labour Party and the front bench, do you think Jeremy Corbyn will invite some of them back to have more prominent front bench positions?
JM: That’s for Jeremy…
RP: Well what do you think?
JM: The general view has always been an open door policy and we’ve wanted people to work with us all the way along. I’ll just quote Caroline again, it’s a good example, the work that she did on taxation was superb, amending legislation, drafting it up from the back benches, working with us; it’s that sort of work and cooperation that we want to continue.
RP: Would you like to see the likes of Caroline, Chuka Umunna, Yvette Copper on the front bench? Personally, would you like to see that?
JM: My view is that we want to draw upon all the talents. But our shadow cabinet at the moment was a winning team. It’s just won, effectively, votes that no one predicted that we would. So, I don’t want to break up that winning team.
RP: So that sounds to me that you will stick to the team that took you from 30% to 40%.
JM: That’s for Jeremy to decide on the shadow cabinet positions but it’s a winning team I think we should hold together. But, there are a number of vacancies that will be coming up almost certainly. In addition to that there’s other roles that people can play. We now want to ensure that we’re a cohesive party, a cohesive family because the country needs us.
RP: Can I just ask? On a particular individual, is Diane better? Is she back in her job?
JM: Not yet. She’s still out. She’s still taking a break.
RP: Do you have a sense of how long it will be before she’s back.
JM: No, I haven’t spoken to her in the last couple of days but it will be for her to decide. It’s a personal matter really.
RP: And what is your own best guess about when we’re going to see another general election? Would you relish another general election soon?
JM: Em, I remember an interview with Betty from Bristol, wasn’t it (?) who said ‘not another election’. I think people are a bit tired of elections but I think one’s almost inevitable now. Even the Conservative Party cannot hold together.
RP: Are you gearing up for a snap election?
JM: Oh we’ll continue…we geared up from last November. As soon as the prime minister said there wouldn’t be a snap election we thought there would be. And so we will continue on campaigning all throughout the country. Why? Because that’s the nature of the party we are now. We’re a social movement. But we’ll be campaigning on these individual issues as well that we’ll force votes in parliament on as well. So we can demonstrate popular support for those issues.
RP: Now, we’ve got the Brexit talks also scheduled to start Monday week. There are analyses of the current makeup of the Commons which would suggest that a majority of MPs would now be in favour of, in a personal sense, of Britain remaining in the European single market. Could Labour itself, given your manifesto, support continued membership of the single market.
JM: I can’t see it being on the table in the negotiation but…
RP: But if it got back on the table…
JM: I don’t think it’s feasible but we’ve been clear all the way along. Ours is a ‘jobs first Brexit’, everything we can do to protect our economy. That must mean tariff-free access to the single market, that’s going to be our…
RP: So you would, just to be clear on this because I think this is very important to people, you would support the prime minister, if Theresa May remains prime minister during these talks, you would support her in her determination to get us out of the European single market.
JM: Let’s be clear: we are respecting the decision of the referendum. We are democrats…
RP: Yes, but the decision was about leaving the EU, it wasn’t about leaving the single market.
JM: I think people will interpret membership of the single market as not respecting that referendum. However, what we’re saying very, very clearly; we had the contrast in this general election. Here we had the Conservative Party going for a ‘race to the bottom Brexit’ and undermining our economy. We always said it would be a ‘jobs first Brexit’…
RP: No, I understand that but it is clear… I think that you are absolutely saying that Labour remains wedded to the idea of leaving the single market.
JM: It’s access. Access to the single market on a tariff-free basis.