Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows round-up: This week is ‘moment of reckoning’ for EU trade deal

Sunday shows round-up: This week is 'moment of reckoning' for EU trade deal
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Picture credit: Sky News
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Dominic Raab - This week is 'the moment of reckoning' for EU deal

The Sunday interview shows return this week to general fanfare across the nation... The first government guest to join Sophy Ridge was the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who was asked about the prospect of the UK reaching a satisfactory trade deal with the EU by the end of the year. James Forsyth has written this week about how Downing Street puts the likelihood of a deal down to 30 to 40 per cent, but Raab professed a greater optimism that an agreement could be reached, citing the thorny subject of fisheries as one of the few remaining 'bones of contention':

DR: This week the negotiations will be really important... We hope that the EU as a whole will understand that this week is the moment of reckoning. There is a deal to be done, and we're only asking to be treated just as the EU would expect... I don't think that sounds unreasonable, that's just plain common sense.

We won't accept 'double standards', even on state aid

Ridge questioned Raab about being able to offer state aid to UK businesses. The EU is attempting to demand that a post-Brexit UK should still follow the trading bloc's rules on offering state aid to businesses. Raab said that while a Conservative government was unlikely to subvert rules aimed at increasing competition, there was a wider principle at stake:

DR: The point of principle is, we can't leave the EU for the EU to control our rules... We're happy to... affirm the global standards, but... why would we accept the EU treating us in a way it would never allow?... The only question is why we should be treated with such double standards.

Tony Abbott's 'character assassination' is not a full reflection

Opposition figures have attacked the government for hiring Tony Abbott as one of several advisors to the Board of Trade. Abbott, who is a former Prime Minister of Australia, has had success in striking trade agreements across east Asia, but the shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has argued that he should be disqualified due to 'his history of offensive comments'. Ridge also highlighted comments that Abbott made, where he said deals should not be 'side-tracked' by labour rights and environmental standards. Raab defended the appointment on two fronts:

DR: [He has] a track record of negotiating free trade agreements in the Indo-Pacific region... We've made clear all along, when it comes to labour standards or environmental standards, we're not going to dilute ours for a moment... Advisors advise, ministers decide... I [also] think some of the character assassination on him is not... a full reflection of his track record.

Diane Abbott - Extinction Rebellion protestors 'are not criminals'

Ridge also interviewed the former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and asked her about the tactics of the environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion, who organised a blockade of major printing presses, delaying the papers of the Telegraph, the Times, the Sun and the Daily Mail. Abbott defended the protestors' actions:

DA: These are legal tactics, and we don't want to talk as if it's not [legal] to take direct action, because direct action has been legal since the time of the suffragettes... They're not criminals.

Dominic Raab - Extinction Rebellion's actions were 'perverse'

But Raab attacked Abbott's comments that it was legal to take 'direct action' against the newspapers, but stopped short of endorsing designating 'XR' as an organised crime group:

DR: The laws are in place to take relevant enforcement action against criminal behaviour... The idea that it is right to damage property or intervene with a free press, in the name of progressive protest, is, I think, perverse.

Nick Thomas-Symonds - UK should put 'two test' system in place for air travellers

Andrew Marr interviewed the shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds. The discussion turned to airports and the systems in place for dealing with coronavirus. Currently, many air passengers are either instructed to place themselves under a 14-day quarantine upon their return, or run the risk of having to do so if there is a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases in their host country. Thomas-Symonds called for an overhaul:

NTS: What I've suggested to the Home Secretary is a 'two test' system, which takes away the need for a blanket 14-day quarantine. That's supported by international experience. Iceland, for example, has a system where you are tested on arrival, 5 days elapse and then there is a second test. If they're both negative then the quarantine can end.

Dominic Raab - Government should focus spare test capacity on frontline workers

Andrew Marr also spoke to Raab and asked him about the arrangements for testing those returning to the UK from abroad, and whether the government might follow Labour's 'two test' suggestion:

DR: We keep all these things under review, and our testing has been ramped right up... but there is no silver bullet in airports...

AM: Not if you test them 7 days later, and there is spare capacity to do that...

DR: On the spare capacity issue, we are focused on frontline workers, people in positions which we think we ought to prioritise.

Russia has a 'case to answer' over Navalny poisoning

Marr also asked Raab about Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who was flown to Germany last month after reports that he had collapsed in pain on a flight to Siberia. Specialists have since stated that Navalny had been poisoned with a nerve agent similar to that used in the Salisbury attack on Sergei Skripal in 2018. Marr asked if this tallied with the UK government's verdict:

DR: I think it is very difficult to come up with an alternative plausible explanation... The case to answer is there for Russia... It can't just say 'this is a domestic issue, it's just our internal affairs'. The use of chemical weapons in this context is pure gangsterism.

Leonid Volkov - 'I'm 100% certain' Putin is behind poisoning

Marr also spoke to Navalny's chief of staff, Leonid Volkov. Volkov told Marr that he had no reason to suspect anything other than the likelihood that his own government was behind the attack on its most prominent critic:

AN: I'm certain 100 per cent – I have no doubt after what the German government has said... given the fact that it was Novichok... I think according to the plan... Mr Navalny should have died in Russia, and of course, then no Novichok would have ever been revealed. It would be just a 'heart attack' or something like that.

Richard Leonard - I'm not going to resign

Ridge went on to speak to the leader of the Labour party in Scotland, Richard Leonard. Leonard, who is seen as an ally of Jeremy Corbyn, has been under fire for Scottish Labour's underperformance in recent years, and there are signs of waning support from Labour's new management. Ridge asked Leonard straight out if he planned to resign:

LR: No, I'm not, and I think those that have been calling for me this week to step down have underestimated both my resolve, but also the mandate that I got from members of the Scottish Labour party... The mandate that I was given by the members... was to campaign on a radical agenda [and] also to be the leader... going into the 2021 Scottish elections.

Diane Abbott - Theresa May 'understood' implications of 'stop and search'

The former shadow home secretary also shared some unlikely common ground with Theresa May. While discussing the policy of 'stop and search', which is designed to combat rising knife crime and has re-intensified under the Johnson government, Abbott looked back more fondly on his predecessor's approach:

DA: It does appear... that black people are disproportionately affected by the way the criminal justice system operates... I think the Tories could do worse than revisit some of the policies that Theresa May was trying to bring forward... She understood that stop and search was potentially a problem for relationships between... ethnic minorities and the police.

I turned Strictly down!

And finally, as former home secretary Jacqui Smith has been revealed as a contestant on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing, Abbot revealed that she too had been approached for a chance to don the sequinned outfits and attempt the cha-cha-cha:

SR: Did they ever approach you about it? Would you do it if they did?

DA: They have, and I turned them down! I couldn't possibly do it. I think Jacqui's very brave!