Keir Starmer - Government may be in contempt of Parliament
Sophy Ridge began the day by speaking to the Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer. Starmer authored an article for this morning's Sunday Telegraph, in which he announced that Labour would work with other opposition parties to declare the government to be in contempt of Parliament. The row concerns the publication of legal advice that the government received from the Attorney General, Sir Geoffrey Cox, which it has since been ordered to reveal in full. The government is reluctant to release more than the summary. Ridge asked Sir Keir to elaborate:
SR: You’ve talked about contempt of Parliament proceedings. What does that mean and what can it actually do? Can you force the government to publish it?
KS: ...If they don’t produce it tomorrow, then we will start contempt proceedings... That then has to be debated in the House and an order can be made of contempt. Now as I say, I don’t want to go down this path... We shouldn’t be dealing with contempt of Parliament.
SR: The government has said that it will publish a summary of the advice, why is that not good enough?
KS: ...These are exceptional circumstances... Summaries are not as good as the full legal advice and they tend to leave out the bits the author of the summary doesn’t want people to know about.
On the fast approaching vote when the Commons will be asked to accept or reject the Prime Minister's Brexit deal, Sir Keir stated that if the government lost, it would be 'inevitable' that Labour would call for a motion of no confidence, and that it was 'right that there should be a general election'. He also declared a second referendum to be 'far better than this deal'. On the possibility of the UK adopting an arrangement similar to that of Norway, Starmer said that he had spent four days studying this option and concluded that he 'didn’t think it would really work very well for the United Kingdom'.
Brandon Lewis - 'Plan B is Plan A'
The Conservative party chairman has told Ridge that the government is not considering other options as it approaches the crucial Commons Brexit vote. Instead, Brandon Lewis insisted that the government's deal was not only the best option for the UK, but the only option on the table:
SR: Around a hundred Conservative MPs say that they don’t like Theresa May’s deal. It looks like it will be really hard to get that through Parliament, so what’s Plan B?
BL: Well actually Plan B is Plan A, it’s to get this deal agreed. It is the only deal that’s there on the table, it’s the only option we’ve got. If this deal doesn’t go through we have the risk of no Brexit, no deal potentially...
SR: ...But have you actually got a Plan B?
BL: As I said, Plan B is Plan A. We’ve got to get this deal through... It’s the only deal that is out there, it’s the only deal coming from the EU, it’s the only deal that delivers for this country.
Like Starmer, Lewis rejected the Norway deal as a possible alternative to the government's plan, citing both free movement of people and 'continued payments to the EU' as problems which would be unresolved by this scenario. Ridge also asked him about why the government was so hesitant to publish its Brexit related legal advice. Lewis responded that there was a 'historic, centuries old custom in this country' of client confidentiality, but said that the Attorney General would be giving a statement to the House on Monday and that he hoped that MPs would be 'satisfied' with this. He strongly denied any suggestion that the Conservatives were planning for an early general election.
Michael Gove - A second referendum 'would undermine faith in our democracy'
The Environment Secretary joined Andrew Marr to discuss the government's position ahead of the crucial vote in nine days time. Marr prompted Gove on the subject of a second referendum. Gove did not pull any punches in his reply:
MG: The very act of calling a second referendum I believe would damage faith in democracy and rip apart the social fabric of this country, because it would confirm in the minds of many - not just who voted Leave, but many who voted Remain - that the establishment are prepared to give you a choice, but if you make the wrong choice, then you have to choose again... If [voters] were now told 'Sorry, you were too daft or you were too prejudiced last time round - think again', I think that... would undermine faith in our democracy.
On the government's deal, Gove claimed that Brexiteers 'should not make the perfect the enemy of the good'. He described the Northern Irish backstop arrangement as 'the area which I have greatest concern about', but continued, 'However uncomfortable it is for the UK, it is more uncomfortable for the EU'. He argued this was because, if invoked, the backstop would see the UK have a 'competitive advantage' over EU nations, with tariff free access to the single market, but control over immigration. He told Marr that 'I believe we can win the argument and win the vote', and flatly rejected the idea that Theresa May would have to resign if the government lost.
Barry Gardiner - The EU will renegotiate this deal
The Shadow International Trade Secretary has asserted in the strongest possible terms that he believes the EU will renegotiate the government's current deal if it is rejected in the Commons, despite repeated promises from Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker that they will do no such thing. He explained his reasoning to Marr:
AM: Mr Juncker, for instance, says that this deal on the table at the moment is the only deal possible, and the only deal that’s on offer, and that’s it. The deal is the deal he says.
BG: Of course what we have is we’ve seen time and again, whether it’s the Lisbon Treaty or in other treaties, the EU, when forced back into a corner always says, 'OK, we’ll have another look at it, we’ll look at it again'. Of course they expect that. And the Lithuanian Prime Minister showed that they had already countered that in.
Gardiner pointed to a specific Labour criticism of the deal which concerned the phrase 'level of rights', which he argued 'does not... meet the need to embed rights that we have in this country', adding that in workplace disputes it would become 'very difficult to actually pursue a claim through an industrial tribunal'. Gardiner concluded by saying 'I don’t want a second referendum', but clarified, 'Do I think it’s the best option? I certainly don’t. But is it an option that we should keep open? Yes, it is'.
Justin Welby - Christian plight in Middle East 'more and more acute'
And finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury has sought to raise the circumstances facing Christians across areas of the Middle East. Welby is planning a service at Westminster Abbey dedicated to Christians abroad on Tuesday, and he told Marr why he thought this was necessary:
JW: I’ve been with Christians around the Middle East for many, many years but in different countries. And the plight of Christians there has become more and more acute as the years have gone by. Not everywhere... But the total proportion of Christians in countries like Iraq has dropped from 10 per cent to about 2 per cent... They have vanished in some areas. They’ve been driven out or they’ve been killed. And so it seems a good time, as we approach Christmas, this season of Advent when we’re focused on the Middle East, on Bethlehem, to talk about the reality of the situation today.
On Brexit, Welby told Marr that despite voting Remain in 2016, 'that’s the decision we’ve taken and now we must make it work for the common good'. Welby also said that it was important that the government did not dismiss the recent UN report on poverty in the UK, saying 'Certainly there are parts of the country where there is huge deprivation, adding 'I see that in my own diocese of Canterbury'.