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Sunday shows roundup: Boris on Brexit

9 December 2018

5:34 PM

9 December 2018

5:34 PM

Boris Johnson – I feel ‘deep sense of personal responsibility’ for Brexit

Perhaps the star guest of the day was the former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who joined Andrew Marr ahead of what looks to be another difficult week for the government. Having resigned his position after the Chequers summit in July, Johnson has since been a leading voice of opposition to Theresa May’s Brexit plan, and has argued that not reaching a deal with the EU would be a preferable outcome to what is currently on offer. Marr asked him about the possible impact of ‘no deal’, a scenario which has become ever more likely by the day:

AM: If in the circumstances of no deal lots of people up and down the country lose their jobs… will you take personal responsibility?

BJ: Of course I will. And do not underestimate the deep sense of personal responsibility I feel for Brexit, and for everything that has happened. Do not underestimate how much I care about this. Because this is fundamental to our country, and it absolutely breaks my heart to think that after all that we’ve fought for, all that we campaigned for… that we could consign ourselves to a future in which the EU effectively rules us in many, many respects and yet we have no say round the table in Brussels… We can do much, much better than this.

Johnson flatly told Marr ‘I don’t want no deal’, adding ‘nobody on either side of the Channel wants no deal’. However, he claimed that the backstop arrangement for Northern Ireland is a ‘diabolical negotiating position to be in’, because ‘it gives the power to Brussels and to all the other EU member states effectively to blackmail us and to get what they want out of the future trade negotiation’. He put the case to Marr that it was ‘possible for us to reword this Northern Ireland Protocol… so as it give the UK a unilateral exit mechanism’. He concluded ‘I do think that we can have a fantastic future if we do Brexit right. I passionately and sincerely believe that’.

Notably, Johnson also deliberately avoided Marr’s question when asked if he would stand for the Conservative leadership in the event that Theresa May’s plans are voted down in the House of Commons, merely saying ‘I will give you a sensible plan to get out of this mess’.

Stephen Barclay – Brexit vote ‘100% happening on Tuesday’

Marr also spoke to the Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, who took up his post only last month after Dominic Raab’s resignation. Marr asked if there was any truth to the rumours that the government was considering putting off the vote on its Brexit deal until a later date, so that it may stand a better chance:

AM: The Sunday Times’ front page suggests that this vote is not going to happen on Tuesday, that it’s going to be delayed. Can you confirm that it will definitely take place on Tuesday?

SB: The vote is going ahead, and that’s because it is a good deal, it’s the only deal. And it’s important that we don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good…

AM: Do you think you can win over enough people to win this vote?

SB: Well, we’re making that case.

Barclay cautioned against the idea that renegotiations could be reopened, arguing that ‘Those who say simply go back and ask again, the risk is that isn’t necessarily a one-way street. The French, the Spanish and others will turn round, if we seek to reopen the negotiation, and ask for more’. He continued ‘I think as we get closer to that vote there will be a focus in our minds as to the uncertainty that will happen if we don’t go ahead [with May’s deal]’. When asked if Theresa May could carry on as Prime Minister, even after a heavy defeat, Barclay replied ‘Absolutely… the Prime Minister is fighting for us and will continue in post’. Barclay also downplayed the idea of switching to a Norway-style deal if the government loses, saying ‘I don’t think Norway respects the referendum’.

Esther McVey – May must go back and get a better deal

Esther McVey, another high profile resignation from the government in November, has told Sophy Ridge that if the government loses its key vote on Tuesday, the Prime Minister must abandon the backstop arrangement and negotiate a new deal without one:

SR: If it gets voted down as we expect it will, what do you think needs to happen then?

EM: The Prime Minister immediately has to go to the EU and get a better deal, that’s what she must do. There are two key things, people talk about the 585 page document – there are two key things in there. One is the backstop, we don’t need the backstop, we shouldn’t have the backstop. The EU says it doesn’t want it. We don’t want it. So why is it there? Remove it.

McVey also bemoaned the so-called ‘divorce bill’, asking ‘Why, oh why, are we handing over £39 billion and what for?’ She added that if May secured what she wanted ‘on those key points then she will remain as our prime minister…If she doesn’t it is going to be very difficult for her’. Echoing Boris Johnson, she continued ‘We don’t want no deal. What we want is to be good neighbours, good allies, good friends. We are in the same geography so let’s get that free trade agreement’. McVey also defended Universal Credit, for which she had until recently been responsible, telling Ridge that ‘the legacy system it replaced wasn’t working… This for the first time ever makes work pay’.

Kwasi Kwarteng – ‘The more I read it, the more I like it’

However, the newly appointed Brexit minister Kwasi Kwarteng has stuck up for the government’s proposals and insisted that it has a lot to offer:

KK: I took up my post a few weeks ago, I’ve spent all my time, almost all my waking hours on the withdrawal agreement and I’ve said to Boris, the more I read the agreement, the more I liked it and the more I actually got into the weeds of it, I think it delivers… We get to have our own immigration policy, we stop the annual subscription to the EU club… we have our own independent trade policy, the [ECJ] ends its jurisdiction over Britain and it’s a strong deal.

Kwarteng was optimistic about securing a free trade agreement during the 2 year implementation period, arguing ‘We have been in the EU for 46 years… so it should be relatively straightforward’. On the backstop, he remarked ‘I absolutely see why people are concerned about the backstop because the backstop is not an ideal situation. Having said that, the backstop is a contingency’. He went on ‘What businesspeople… are concerned about is having some degree of certainty. They see it as a soap opera really – a lot of what’s going on – and they want the soap opera to end and they want to get on with their lives’.

Jon Trickett – ‘Nothing has changed’

And finally, Jon Trickett, the Shadow Cabinet Office Minister tried to row back a little from comments made on Ridge’s programme last week by Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer. Starmer had told Ridge it was inevitable that Labour would call for a vote of no confidence in the government if it lost this week’s crucial Brexit vote:

SR: If Theresa May does lose this vote, as we expect her to, will Labour be calling a confidence motion?

JT: Let’s see what happens… We don’t know – although the media are saying we are going to win the vote – whether we will or not. We’ll then see what our tactics need to be following that, and there are a number of possible scenarios. And I don’t think it’s possible to guess in advance exactly what’s going to happen.

SR: Last week on the show though, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer, told me it was inevitable that Labour would call a confidence motion if she lost the vote, so what’s changed?

JT: Nothing has changed, we simply don’t know what is going to happen on Tuesday night.

Trickett was sanguine about Labour’s performance in the opinion polls, telling Ridge that ‘we’ve all learnt that the polls only reveal so much’. Unlike some of his Labour colleagues, he did not play up the possibility of a second referendum, saying ‘It can take months, six or seven months, to organise a referendum… We have to decide what the question is, we have to renew the people on the voting lists, and then there has to be a period of time for the referendum, so we think the earliest it can take place is probably May or June [when] we’ll have gone past the March deadline’.

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