Keir Starmer - Tory Remainers should vote with us
The week ahead promises a showdown in the House of Commons as the government's EU Withdrawal Bill will face several key votes which could decisively impact the future of Brexit. The votes come after the bill was substantially amended by the House of Lords back in April, with peers notably seeking to keep the UK in the EU's customs union and to give Parliament a 'meaningful say' on the final Brexit deal. Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer joined Andrew Marr to discuss Labour's approach to the bill, with Marr highlighting that Labour was not seizing the opportunity to keep the UK in either the single market or the European Economic Area:
AM: You've let the Prime Minister off the hook really, haven't you?
KS: No, we have pushed the PM all the way on the really big issues and the two really important ones for this week are the customs union and the meaningful vote. And if – and I urge Tory MPs who care about this to vote for those amendments – if Tory MPs who do care about those amendments vote with us, there is a real chance for Parliament to change the course of the Brexit negotiations and bring some order where there is real chaos...
AM: You had a chance to bring the government down and you've skipped it.
KS: ...We have laid [amendments] to the Customs Bill and the Trade Bill... They are different bills... where Tory rebels who care about the single market can lay down their own amendments and we can vote on it then. So the idea that this Tuesday or this Wednesday is the last chance saloon on a single market deal is misconceived.
On the idea of seeking a post-Brexit relationship similar to that of Norway and the EU, Starmer said 'I went to the Norway-Sweden border to see for myself what does an EEA border look like. There is infrastructure there, there are checks there, you have to hand in your papers. It is totally incompatible with a solemn commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland.'
David Lidington - Customs backstop could still be in place by 2022
The Cabinet Office Minister, who is widely regarded as Theresa May's de facto deputy, has suggested that the UK's so-called 'backstop' arrangements - aimed at preventing a hard border with the Republic of Ireland which would be activated if the UK exits the EU with no deal - could still be in place beyond the official date. After a standoff between Theresa May and Brexit Secretary David Davis, who demanded a cut-off date, the UK government's proposals now contain an 'expected' cut-off date of December 2021. Marr inquired as to why the language was so vague:
AM: I'm slightly confused about the language the government has used... What does the word expects mean?
DL: Exactly what it says... We know that in the autumn of this year, we're going to need to get agreement on the text of the withdrawal agreement, which includes the backstop arrangement for Ireland. Alongside that the House of Commons and the European Parliament are both very clear that we need clarity about what it is we'll be transitioning to at the end of the implementation period. So that will be part of the consideration of both parliaments... [If we can't] switch to the new arrangements seamlessly, it's there for a short time.
AM: It's just its delightfully waffly, soft kind of language...
DL: It's being absolutely sensible and reasonable. If we get a good deal with the EU that needs ratification in national parliaments, one of them might delay, there might be an election in one country... Everybody is working towards getting this sorted as soon as we possibly can.
When asked about the Prime Minister's competence in dealing with Brussels, Lidington replied 'I think anybody who has had dealings with Theresa May in public or private knows that she doesn't shirk from being tough... I think that the public appreciate that'. On the prospect of a trade war between Europe and the United States arising from President Trump's proposed tariffs on steel and aluminium, Lidington said 'I think the lessons of trade wars in the past are that everybody loses, so I think we need to work... to try to find multilateral solutions to this'.
Nicola Sturgeon - Timing of Indyref2 depends on Brexit
Fresh from addressing the SNP's party conference yesterday, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon joined Sophy Ridge from Aberdeen to talk about the next steps for Scottish independence. Despite a report from the Scottish Growth Commission which warned of several challenges ahead, including the likelihood that an independent Scotland would have to cut public spending, Sturgeon remained optimistic, but made it clear that a second referendum is not on the cards for the time being:
SR: Can you say for definite, one way of the other, that there will or will not be a second referendum while you are First Minister?
NS: I think there will be. I think Scotland will become independent. My view is that that is the direction of travel. But on the question of timing, for the last 12 months I've been saying very clearly that I don't think it's right to consider that decision while things are so unclear and uncertain around Brexit. So as First Minister, I won't give consideration to the timing until we've got some Brexit clarity. The message I was giving to my party... is that gives us an opportunity not to worry all the time about when we might vote again on independence, but instead to engage in the substance of the arguments and to address people in Scotland who still ask why we should be independent.
On Brexit, Sturgeon argued that 'If there is a bespoke arrangement for Northern Ireland... that keeps [it] in the single market... those options should be open to Scotland'. She also expressed disdain for the Foreign Secretary after the leaked recordings that surfaced last week, telling Ridge I don't think Boris Johnson should be anywhere near a government office, he must be one of the least fit people to hold a high office of state we've ever seen'.
Dominic Raab - 'Think very seriously' before voting against EU Bill
The Housing Minister Dominic Raab has claimed to be 'reasonably confident' that the government can find its way through the difficult legislative tests it will endure on the Withdrawal Bill this week. However, in his interview with Sarah Smith he urged his colleagues to 'think very seriously' before siding with the opposition against the government:
SS: How worried are the government about losing any of these votes?
DR: I think we need to take very seriously all the different views, but I think we're reasonably confident. I was involved in steering the Withdrawal Bill through at the Commons stage, and we won 57 out of 58 votes, and I'm reasonably confident that we'll get the legislation through...
SS: Amber Rudd and Iain Duncan Smith [wrote] a joint article this morning... urging their colleagues to vote with the government, but they also heavily imply that a government defeat could risk either risk Theresa May's premiership or the government's safety itself. Raising the stakes that high... is that helpful?
DR: I think what it shows is that you've got two former cabinet ministers on polar opposite sides of the EU campaign... uniting and showing that the Conservative party and indeed the country needs to be bigger than the sum of its parts... I think people thinking about voting against the government this week should think very seriously about it, but the most important thing is that we get that legislation through because it avoids the legal cliff edge, makes sure we have a smooth legal transition and it sends the Prime Minister into the June Council with the wind in her sails.
Raab contradicted David Lidington on the backstop, stating 'The backstop would end by December 2021', and remarked 'We're confident it can be done much quicker than 2021'. He added 'The key thing is, this [backstop] is the worst case scenario... We are confident that, as we make progress with the trade talks, we will be in a better position well before then'.
Ken Clarke - Labour MPs don't want a Corbyn government
And finally, Tory grandee Ken Clarke has dismissed the possibility of an early general election as a result of the crunch votes set for Tuesday and Wednesday. He confirmed that he would be rebelling later this week on the customs union and to give Parliament a 'meaningful vote'. He gave Smith his gut feeling on the matter:
KC: Nobody in the House of Commons wants a general election. Most Labour MPs are as terrified by the idea of a Corbyn government as I am. They want to get rid of Corbyn first. And anyway, I don't think the public would elect Corbyn, so nobody's going into an election. [And] we now have a fixed Parliament Act which makes it clear that you don't have an election when you lose a vote.
He went on: 'Next week we can actually give Parliament the opportunity of rescuing Theresa from all this, and begin to use the parliamentary majority in favour of a softer sensible Brexit... doing modern grown up things'. When Smith asked if the Brexiteers were holding May to ransom, Clarke answered 'Yes. They're undermining her. I think they would seek to replace her [if they could]. On Northern Ireland, Clarke said 'We must keep to the Good Friday Agreement, we must have an open border. It would be shameful to vote that down'.