Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows round-up: ‘Lessons have not been learned’ about Russia

Sunday shows round-up: ‘Lessons have not been learned’ about Russia
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Marina Litvinenko: ‘Lessons have not been learned’

The case of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, who has been hospitalised alongside his daughter after a suspected attempt on his life, has been dominating news headlines since it happened. Marina Litvinenko, the widow of the one-time Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who is believed to have been killed on the orders of Vladimir Putin in 2006, told Andrew Marr that she did not think enough was being done by the British authorities to protect former Russian agents now resident in the UK:

AM: Your husband was murdered 12 years ago, and then you fought very hard for public enquiry, and after that public enquiry reported and suggested there was probably a Kremlin link, you got a letter from Theresa May – then the Home Secretary.

ML: Yes, we had a meeting and a discussion about what we might achieve after this public enquiry verdict. And after this meeting I received a letter [which said] ‘I, and this Government, a clear that we must continue to pursue justice for your husband's killing and that we will take every step to protect the UK and its people from such a crime ever being repeated.’ But unfortunately, it happened again. It means something was not done, and a lesson received after the murder of my husband was not learned.

When Marr asked what Mrs Litvinenko's message was for Theresa May going forward, she responded: ‘You need to be very selective who you are friends with, and when you allow people with money to come to your country and make a business, you need to be sure [about] what kind of money these people try to bring to your country, because very often this money is stolen from the Russian people.’

John McDonnell: Labour MPs should stop appearing on Russia Today

The Shadow Chancellor has told Marr that he does not think that representatives from the Labour party should appear on the Russia Today television channel any longer. Speaking from the party's Scottish conference in Dundee, McDonnell said that in the past he had treated Russia Today ‘like every other television station’, but that in light of recent changes, the channel did not live up to appropriate journalistic standards:

AM: One very clear thing that you could do is stop appearing on Russia Today, which has been described by one of your own ministers as a ‘Kremlin propaganda vehicle’.

JM: I think that’s right now, and that's what I’ll be doing. I've appeared on it in the past, sometimes to challenge some of the issues internationally, and also to raise issues here that we're concerned about in terms of not just Russia's role but also the international scene overall... I think from what we've seen from Russia Today at times goes beyond objective journalism...

AM: So this is a change in direction? Peter O’Dowd, your deputy was on Russia Today only yesterday. Are you going to be encouraging the rest of your colleagues to follow that lead?

JM: Yes I am because I’ve been looking overnight at what's happening in terms of changes in coverage on Russian television, in particular, and I think we have to step back now. I can understand why people have up until now because we have treated it like every other television station... We tried to be fair with them and as long as they abide by journalistic standards that are objective... but it looks as if they have gone beyond that line, so yes, we will be having that discussion.

McDonnell also made clear that he backed the idea of a Magnitsky Act as adopted by the United States and other European countries which would enable the UK to punish Russian citizens involved in corruption, especially if the Russian state is found to be behind the Sergei Skripal poisoning. He said: ‘we cannot tolerate another state putting at risk our own citizens or people who are living in this country, so we've got to isolate them’.

Philip Hammond: ‘There is light at the end of the tunnel’

The Chancellor of the Exchequer also joined Marr ahead of his Spring Statement which is due to take place on Tuesday. The 2018 Statement is forecast to be a much less eventful affair than the Autumn Statements of the past, with few major changes anticipated. Good news came for the Chancellor when it was revealed at the beginning of March that the UK is now running a current budget surplus, which it has not done for 16 years. Marr spoke to Hammond about the significance of this:

AM: Light at the end of the tunnel, a ‘turning point’ for the economy – you've given lots of examples about wage growth, you've talked about the effect of finally ending the austerity years of paying back the budget day by day by day... It feels like a really really important moment.

PH: There is light at the end of the tunnel, because what we're about to see is debt starting to fall, after it's been growing for 17 continuous years. That's a very important moment for us. But we are still in the tunnel at the moment. We have to get debt down. We've got all sorts of other things we want to do. We've taken a balanced approach over the last couple of fiscal events, using the flexibility that we had to continue paying down debt, but also to provide additional support to our public services, to invest in Britain's future, and to reduce taxes on families and small businesses who are feeling the pressure.

Marr also asked Hammond if austerity was over. Hammond replied that ‘most people take that to be a reference to the public sector pay cap. And we have removed the one per cent pay cap on public sector pay.’ When pressed on the amount of money available for local councils, Hammond stated that ‘this is not a fiscal event, so I won't be making fiscal announcements’, adding that councils had ‘well over £200 billion of core spending power over the five year period from 2015-2020. They've got reserves of £23 billion - that's £8 billion higher than in 2010.’

Jacob Rees-Mogg: NHS should receive Brexit ‘dividend’

European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg has called for an increase in health spending after the UK leaves the EU. Rees-Mogg was speaking to Robert Peston, who had asked him about whether there was more scope to increase public spending in light of the UK current account surplus. Rees-Mogg indicated that this could be done without eating into the financial progress that had recently been made:

RP: You would like to see a more generous settlement for the Health Service?

JRM: I would like to see the dividend of leaving the European Union devoted to the health service. I think people felt that was promised during the referendum campaign. And the figures on health spending, in real terms since 2010, is a 1.1 per cent increase, whereas in the period of the Conservatives in government from 1979 to 1997, it was 3.4 per cent. So we're running at a significantly lower real-terms increase in health spending currently. And with an aging population, with increasing medical sophistication, I don't think it's realistic to expect that the current levels of spending can be maintained.

However, on higher spending more broadly, Rees-Mogg added: ‘there is limited money, so the question is where do you get the money from? And anybody who wants to propose increases in spending needs to identify where it is coming from.’ On the Prime Minister's plans to keep the UK as an associate member of various EU bodies, such as the European Medicines Agency, he answered: ‘I am supporting what the Prime Minister is trying to do because I recognise all of us have to compromise to some extent... From a perfect point of view, I would rather not be in the agencies, but if that is the price to pay to get an overall trade deal... then that is something I can live with.’

Sam Gyimah: Jeremy Corbyn was ‘the only game on campus’ in 2017

And the Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has been embarking on a ‘nationwide tour’ of the country's higher educational facilities, giving talks and speaking to students. Sarah Smith asked him about the motives behind his excursions:

SS: So, do you think you persuaded many students to vote Tory or join the Conservative party?

SG: Well, the point of the exercise wasn't to persuade people to vote Conservative. There were two points to it. One, as the Universities Minister, I'm very conscious that today students are investing more considerable amounts of money in their education, and they should have a voice in the corridors of power. So gone are the days when the Universities Minister spent time talking to Vice Chancellors, but not with the students. But there is a political dimension. At the last election, Jeremy Corbyn was the only game on campus and if we allowed that to continue we would only have ourselves to blame if they continue voting for him. And the starting point in that process is actually listening and engaging, rather than preaching to them about what I think their problems are and what the answers are.

On 18 April, join Andrew Neil and a special guest panel for an in-depth discussion about Russia's people, politics, economy and how the West should deal with the newly re-elected Vladimir Putin. Book tickets here