Andrew Marr returned to our screens this week after recovering from his kidney operation. His first interview was with Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Chairman of the European Research Group and currently the bookies' favourite to be the next Prime Minister. Marr inquired as to how Rees-Mogg felt the government's negotiations with the EU were progressing, particularly regarding the present stalemate over potential customs arrangements post-Brexit and the knock-on impact for the Irish border:
AM: [The Prime Minister] thinks this idea of 'We're not putting up a hard border, let someone else do it if they dare'... is irresponsible, and she's said so much to you.
JRM: ...I think that is a mistake. I think that's the obvious negotiating position for us to have... If you are going into a negotiation, you should use your strongest cards and just to tear one of them up and set hares running on other issues is, I think, an error.
AM: Are we now at the point where we have to walk away?
JRM: No... but I think we should be clear and stronger. Basically the deal is very simple. We are paying a very large amount of money, £40bn, and in return we want a trade deal. Everything else is essentially incidental to that... Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and therefore we should reiterate that and say, quite clearly, if we don’t get the trade deal we want, you don’t get the money. And that’s a very strong negotiating position.
On the idea of staying inside either the EU customs union or something very similar for an extended period of time in order to solve the border issue, Rees-Mogg said: 'If you offer a backstop that is more attractive than anything that you're likely to negotiate from the other side's point of view, the backstop ends up becoming the frontstop'. Rees-Mogg also rejected the notion that he would climb to the top of British politics, stating 'I don't wish to be Prime Minister', adding 'Of course I wouldn't challenge Theresa May. That's a ridiculous idea'.
David Gauke - Middle class drug users should realise their responsibilities
The Justice Secretary joined Sophy Ridge to discuss his planned reforms to help reduce the UK's overall prison population, which now stands at over 83,000 inmates. Among other things, Gauke has expressed a desire to sharply cut the number of prison sentences that last for under 12 months and to cut the number of female offenders serving custodial sentences. Gauke also took aim at middle class drug users, arguing that their lifestyle choices had serious consequences:
SR: This week the Police Federation said that we should also be looking at white middle class drug users, not just street gangs in order to try and stop the drugs trade... so do you think there should be a focus on people who take cocaine at dinner parties as well?
DG: ...People who do that have to recognise that they are fuelling the industry that is resulting in the knife crimes, that is resulting in the difficulties we have in prisons. But the violent crime we see inside and outside prison is strongly linked to [the] drugs trade…
SP: Do you think people just don't realise?
DG: ...There is a responsibility for middle-class people who take cocaine at a dinner party, that when they see a story of a 15-year-old being stabbed in Hackney, they should feel a degree of guilt and responsibility.
On female offenders, Gauke said 'I think there is a very good point in saying that of the 4,000 or so female offenders who are in custody, how many of them can be dealt with through other means?... Non-custodial sentences are certainly something to look at, [as well as] more support in the community'. Ridge challenged Gauke on when the government would release its delayed Female Offenders Strategy, but he refused to be drawn on an exact date, merely saying 'I don't think you'll have to wait very long'.
Jonathan Ashworth - Northern Ireland abortion laws 'not sustainable'
Ridge also spoke to Labour's Shadow Health Secretary in the aftermath of Friday's referendum in the Republic of Ireland which has paved the way for Irish MPs to liberalise the country's strict laws on abortion. Ridge asked Ashworth what this meant for Northern Ireland, which also maintains tough restrictions in contrast to the rest of the United Kingdom:
SR: If Labour were in power, would you overrule politicians in Northern Ireland to decriminalise abortion?
JA: Well, these things are always done on the basis of a free vote, but... I don't think it's sustainable that women in Northern Ireland should be denied this and be out of place from the island of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. These things are usually a free vote and have to be done in consultation with the parties of Northern Ireland... But if a vote did come to the House of Commons, I would vote to allow women in Northern Ireland to have an abortion like they can here in England.
On a less controversial topic, Ashworth joked that he might yet perform at the upcoming 'Labour Live' festival that has been organised to capitalise on the raucous reception received by Jeremy Corbyn at last year's Glastonbury. Ticket sales have not been as strong as hoped, but there is still the prospect that Ashworth will 'might do a bit of 'The Greatest Showman' and 'a great Engelbert Humperdinck' if all else fails.
Rory Stewart - We should 'massively reduce' shorter prison sentences
The Prisons Minister has spoken to Sarah Smith about the government's prison reforms, arguing strongly for a reduction in the number of sentences amounting to less than 12 months in prison. Stewart detailed why he believed this was necessary:
RS: The key point is that many people going to prison, or even in some cases on recall, only for a matter of days - that's just not long enough to give any chance to really work with someone in terms of educating them and turning their life around. And the statistics demonstrate that sending someone to prison for a very short period makes them more likely to re-offend compared to a community sentence. So it's not good for them and it's not good for public safety... I strongly agree with the Justice Secretary - if we could massively reduce the amount of people who are in there for 6 or 12 months, it will be good for public safety, it will be good for the individuals and good for the prison system.
Stewart went further, asserting that 'prisoners with the right kind of training, the right kind of attitudes, as Pret a Manger are finding, or Greggs, the bakers are finding, or Timpson, the shoe company are finding, can provide very loyal, good employees'.
Tom Watson - I lost 86 lbs!
And finally, Labour's Deputy Leader has revealed the extraordinary amount of weight he has lost over the last few years. Watson told Robert Peston that in order to lose the 6 stones he had 'basically stopped taking sugar' and 'started walking 10,000 steps a day':
RP: How much have you lost?
TW: So far I think I've got to 86 lbs, or 39 kg...
RP: Is this the thinnest you've broadly been as an adult?
TW: It's certainly the thinnest I've been since I became an MP!... It's because I kept reading about Labour politicians who died early in their 50s and 60s and I wanted to get healthy again. And actually for me the journey’s been very interesting because what I realise is there’s a lot more we can do in public health to deal with the obesity crisis, because you know we’ve got 10 million... people heading to diabetes.