Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Ann Widdecombe Brexit Party
ANY QUOTES USED MUST BE ATTRIBUTED TO SKY NEWS, SOPHY RIDGE ON SUNDAY
NP: Last Sunday night the Brexit Party broke the mould to British politics, topping the poll at the European Elections and winning 29 MEPs. Well one of them, Ann Widdecombe, joins me now in the studio. Lovely to see you and congratulations on your election as is customary at this point. Did you ever think you’d be back in front line politics?
ANN WIDDECOMBE: No, I really didn’t and if you had asked me that question two months ago I would almost certainly have said to you, oh don’t be silly.
NP: So why then? I mean I’ve seen some of your stump speeches and angry I think would accurately describe them.
ANN WIDDECOMBE: Yes and frustrated, really frustrated at three long years of negotiations going absolutely nowhere and in the end I just asked myself a question, I said how do we get out of this and what is the best way to get out of this? I decided that how we get out of it is no deal if necessary and the best way to get out of it was to join the only party that was actually committed to that.
NP: So how does the Brexit Party have any influence on the process that we’re currently going through with the fact that there will be a new Conservative leader, a new Conservative Prime Minister and undeniably they will be the ones pushing this process forward.
ANN WIDDECOMBE: Well I think if you look at it, we’ve already had a pretty massive influence. First of all the local elections were a major shock to the two big parties and we weren’t even standing and people were writing votes on their ballot papers for us. Then came the Euro Elections and then today has come an opinion poll actually putting us in first place for Westminster. Now all that in six short weeks of this party actually being created so I think we have already had that impact, we are more or less now obliging whoever leads the Conservative party to say that we will leave without a deal if that is what we have to do. To have done that in six weeks is pretty good going, you think what we can achieve in six months.
NP: Well you say six months, I’m assuming therefore that you are not of the opinion that the Brexit Party will disappear if we leave without a deal on the 31st October?
ANN WIDDECOMBE: I don't think we’ll disappear for one very good reason, I don't think anybody at the moment trusts the politicians, I think we would want to see first of all that was no reneging on that. Secondly that there was no attempt to water it down in some way, that we did actually leave convincingly, cleanly and then build the relationship with the EU on equal terms.
NP: But in terms of the anger and the frustration the Brexit Party has very clearly tapped into – you didn’t create the anger and no one is suggesting that but wouldn’t you at least accept that the Brexit Party at least threw a bit of petrol on the fire? The language, the rhetoric that was used, speakers like yourself and that very angry performance that you were putting on for what I have to say were pretty much adoring crowds.
ANN WIDDECOMBE: I think you have to face the fact that the nation is pretty angry. That is why it’s turned against the two main parties, it’s angry with the fudge, it’s angry with the obfuscation. My former party has gone mad, it has now got 12, 12 …
NP: Sorry, 13 now, Sam Gyimah has declared.
ANN WIDDECOMBE: 13 candidates for the leadership, I mean it is astounding. So what we have we have, okay. We have tapped into a vein of anger and frustration but it’s with a very clear aim, it’s to get us out of the EU and deliver what the people asked for.
NP: There were 17.4 million votes to leave the European Union …
ANN WIDDECOMBE: There were.
NP: There were a bit more than five million votes for the Brexit Party, that by my reckoning is about 12 million angry frustrated Brexit voters that couldn’t be bothered to go to the polling station.
ANN WIDDECOMBE: Well I think first of all a lot of people might have thought that small parties don’t have a chance. Now they know differently, they know that the Brexit Party really can deliver this, it’s not just something we’re saying so I think you’ll find that our support goes on increasing as that opinion poll showed today.
NP: For all the talk of no deal – and you are right to say it has been pushed to the top of the agenda for many Conservative leadership candidate …
ANN WIDDECOMBE: By the Brexit Party.
NP: By the Brexit Party indeed but for all the talk about it being an option, what’s the one thing that was ruled out by the Leave campaign during the referendum, as you well know?
ANN WIDDECOMBE: And it was defeated by one vote in Parliament and that vote by a Labour MP who appeared wearing a tag so let’s be very clear that Parliament itself which is … hang on, 75% Remain, wasn’t so very keen and so very clear about ruling out a no deal. The more we have failed to get a deal, the more people are saying right, if we can’t get a deal let’s just end this process.
NP: We could keep going on about democratic deficits and betrayal of the people but wouldn’t the biggest betrayal be that the 17.4 million people that voted to leave the European Union were told all the way that process that leaving without a deal was not a possibility, was not even an option? Wouldn’t be pushing for the thing that they did not vote for, the one thing they did not vote for, wouldn’t pushing for that be the greatest betrayal?
ANN WIDDECOMBE: Did you actually look at the last European elections? It isn’t that long ago so your memory will be quite fresh. We were actually saying leave without a deal and we topped the poll. Now that was a democratic exercise that reaffirmed the people’s vote of 2016. If we had stood there and said we are not leaving without a deal and topped the poll you could derive nothing from it but you can derive from what happened that people now want out.
NP: When are we going to get a Brexit Party manifesto then?
ANN WIDDECOMBE: Well you’ll get that for a general election but let me say this … no, no, no, I want to say …
NP: I’m sorry, that’s good enough, you are telling me that you have got the public’s support …
ANN WIDDECOMBE: I want to give the answer I was giving you then when I said you will get that for a general election and you will. This is what I was wanting to say to you, I think Nigel Farage was absolutely right to resist the pressure for a manifesto and a broad range of policies in the Euro elections for this reason – we had but one policy which was leave without a deal and that took us to the top of the poll and nobody can say, oh we voted for you for other reasons. We had one policy … the Remain parties had loads of policies.
NP: Oh come on, the reality of it is, the reason you do not have a manifesto today is that it is impossible for the 29 MEPs to agree on a policy. All we have to judge you on is what you’ve said in the past. Michael Daubney, Clare Fox and yourself come from massively different parts of the political spectrum.
ANN WIDDECOMBE: We do, we do and what a tribute it is to Nigel Farage that he’s put together that broader spectrum. Now you say it is impossible, it is being tried now. We are entering upon that process now and by the time we fight a general election, whether it is in three months or six months or three years, we don’t know, we will have a full range of policies and we will be able to unite around them.
NP: The reason why I push you on this point is frankly there are policy positions that you have suggested in the past that Martin Daubney and Clare Fox and others would have real difficulties advocating or indeed standing next to some who has … you wrote a newspaper column in 2012 where you talked again about gay conversation therapy and you suggested that the unhappy homosexual should according to the activists be denied any chance to investigate any possibility of seeing if he could become heterosexual. Now I don’t even need to ask you whether or not that is still your view, the fact that you expressed it means that plenty of people would not want to share a platform with you.
ANN WIDDECOMBE: And I also pointed out that there was a time when we thought it was quite impossible for men to become women and vice versa and the fact that we think it is now quite impossible for people to switch sexuality doesn’t mean that science might not be able to produce an answer at some stage, that was the thrust of my …
NP: So let’s be clear, you are saying that the possibility that science could find a way to change sexuality?
ANN WIDDECOMBE: I don't know, I don't know any more other than people once knew that it was impossible for men to become women, I don't know and I’ve never claimed – and this is where I am misrepresented quite often – I’ve never claimed that such science already exists, I’ve never claimed that. I’ve merely said that if you simply rule out the possibility of it, you are denying people who are confused about their sexuality or discontented with it, the chances that you do give to people that want to change gender. Now that’s all I’ve said. I do not imagine for one moment that the Brexit Party will be putting forward a policy on gay sex changes in its manifesto, we have health, we have the Home Office, we have …
NP: But I suspect it will have a policy on equality though won’t it?
ANN WIDDECOMBE: You are just completely looking for things that actually do not determine people’s votes. What determines people’s votes are the big policies and we will have that and now you are talking about standing on the same platform as Clare Fox, she has said in the past some things which might be interpreted as giving aid and succour to the IRA …
ANN WIDDECOMBE: I lost a darned good friend in the Brighton bomb, I myself missed it by 20 minutes. I can stand on a platform with her because we are united in our aim to get Britain out of the EU and in case anybody out there is forgetting that that is the aim of the Brexit party – we want to get a free, independent, proud Britain and we want to leave that to our children and our children’s children.
NP: I have a strong suspicion that no one will be forgetting that. Ann Widdecombe, many thanks for joining us.