As MPs prepare to return to Westminster following the Christmas recess, the Prime Minister has given her first TV interview of the new year. With the deadline for Brexit fast approaching, Theresa May again put the case for her Brexit deal, on which she postponed a crucial Commons vote in December. Andrew Marr asked her if this time, the vote would definitely be going ahead:
TM: Yes we are going to hold the vote... The debate will start next week and it will carry on until the following week, but we will be holding the vote.
AM: We’re talking about the 15th or 14th?
TM: That sort of timing, yes.
However, when Marr asked if she would invite the Commons to vote for her deal again if it was rejected first time round, May was non-committal. She told Marr that 'the deal is on the table', and that 'if the deal is not voted on... then actually we’re going to be in unchartered territory'. Instead, she implored her Conservative colleagues not to 'let the search for the perfect become the enemy of the good', warning 'the danger there is actually we end up with no Brexit at all'.
Theresa May - There should not be a second referendum
May also took the opportunity to reiterate her opposition to a second referendum, a prospect which has been rearing its head increasingly in the run-up to the Brexit deadline day on 29th March:
TM: It would divide our country... and practically actually you couldn’t get a referendum in time before the 29th of March. You’d be talking about extending Article 50, we’re already nearly three years from the vote to the leave the European Union.
AM: If Parliament has said 'we want a second referendum', [and] you’re against it, what do you do?
TM: What I do in the first place is try to ensure and persuade people that actually going for a second referendum is not the way forward for this country. It’s not the way forward because it is disrespecting the vote of the people.
Elsewhere, May defended today's announcement that the key vote on the extension of the government's Universal Credit policy will be delayed, telling Marr that 'we have made changes as we’ve been learning through this process'. She continued that 'it will be fully rolled out by 2023 as was originally intended'. May also repeated what she had told her party before the confidence vote in December: 'I am not going to call a snap election, and secondly I am not going to be leading the party in to the 2022 general election'.
Matt Hancock - People will get supplies 'in all scenarios'
There has been much speculation that a 'no deal' Brexit may adversely affect the UK's ability to import vital medical supplies to those who need them. Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health, sought to assure Sophy Ridge and her viewers that there was no need to panic:
MH: We are confident that if everybody does what they need to do then we’ll have an unhindered supply of medicines... In all Brexit scenarios, no matter what happens in those negotiations, people should be able to get their supplies and there is an awful lot of work going on to ensure that that’s the case... I’ve been very pleased with the response of the pharmaceutical industry who obviously take this incredibly seriously.
Ridge pressed Hancock on the number of vacancies among NHS staff, with as many as 41,000 nursing posts remaining unfulfilled. Hancock acknowledged the problem, but added that '30,000 of those vacancies are currently filled, but they are filled through people working through for instance agencies rather than full time'. As the NHS embarks upon a new ten year plan, Hancock argued that 'we need to see a big shift in the way that health services are delivered so that essentially we focus on prevention as much as we do on cure', and said that his department would publish a Green Paper on social care 'in the coming weeks'.
Jonathan Ashworth - Tories have run NHS down for nine years
However, the Shadow Health Secretary slammed the government's health proposals and called for more spending on the NHS:
JA: People are waiting longer under this Tory government, and it’s because the Tories, I’m afraid, have been running down the NHS for nine years, starving it of cash, cutting it back, privatising elements of it, failing to get the staff we need.
AM: We’ve got a ten year plan now.
JA: Yeah, a ten year plan to clear up the mess that she has made.
Ashworth protested that the small print of the NHS health settlement meant that spending increases were 2.7 per cent per year, rather than 3.4 per cent. He argued that this amounted to 'a billion pounds worth of cuts in health services this year', warning of 'deep cuts to community health services coming down the line', and he dismissed data showing rising satisfaction scores among patients. On combating obesity, Ashworth said that the 'sugar tax' on fizzy drinks 'has been a success', and suggested extending it to milkshakes. He also fervently denied that his party was 'enabling' Brexit, and confirmed that Labour was 'committed to voting against Theresa May’s deal'.
Peter Bone - Wellingborough statue may not go ahead
And finally, veteran Eurosceptic backbencher Peter Bone has delivered Theresa May an unexpected piece of bad news:
SR: You said that [Theresa May would] be carried shoulder high through the streets to echoing of cheering crowds if she visited your constituency after Brexit. Do you think that’s still the case?
PB: ...I said if she delivered the Brexit the people voted for, and when I said that it looked like we were going to do that. Now of course it looks like we are going to do anything but that. And I’m afraid the statue I was going to build in Wellingborough to Mrs May is probably not going to happen now.
Ridge asked Bone if the Christmas break had changed any MPs' minds on Brexit. Bone replied, 'Well if there’s been any change, it’s hardened the attitude of MPs towards what’s called a no deal because the more and more information about the no deal, it’s clear that it’s absolutely okay to do it'. He also mentioned that he would be introducing a Private Members Bill to ensure three leaders debates during a general election campaign. He said, 'We need to test our future Prime Minister in that way I think'.