Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Baroness Chakrabarti


SOPHY RIDGE: We are joined in the studio by the Shadow Attorney General, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, thank you for being with us. We have heard from the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, earlier in the programme saying despite this law passed by Parliament saying that Boris Johnson must extend if he can’t get a deal, he will not extend. What do you make of the government’s decision?

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: I think it’s extraordinary and the Foreign Secretary has a legal background himself. The idea that a sitting Prime Minister in one of the oldest democracies on the planet would say I will ignore the law and he says, oh no it’s not ignoring the law, it’s just testing it a little bit. Is that what we say to our kids, is that what we say to poor working people, vulnerable people in this country? It’s not breaking the law, it’s just testing it a little bit. I think the position is irresponsible and elitist, the idea that there is one law for Boris Johnson and his mates and another law for everyone else, it’s appalling.

SR: What they would say is that they are trying to enact the will of the people, that they are trying to do what Parliament is trying to block which is to …

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: That’s what they said and I know what they say but every tin pot dictator on the planet throughout history has used the excuse of having the people on their side to break the law, to shut down Parliament and all the rest of it, it’s absolutely extraordinary and I think it’s un-British, as was the purge of the 21 MPs who are Conservatives, they’re not secret Corbynistas and it’s just the way Dominic Raab mentioned Jeremy Corbyn’s name about a hundred times in his interview, as if Jeremy Corbyn is the scary one. I think a lot of people will look at the behaviour of Number 10 in recent weeks and decide that the person who is being un-British and anti-democratic is Boris Johnson.

SR: Dominic Raab also said in his interview that the government would not break the law, he said they just want to test the position.

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: Well the legislation was crystal clear, if you don’t have a deal in the next few weeks you have to apply for an extension. It’s a duty that’s applied in the legislation on the Prime Minister personally and the law is crystal clear. I thought he was very unconvincing and mealy mouthed on that. There is a legal opinion published in the Observer today, a number of QCs making it crystal clear that if you don’t abide by that legislation, people start going to court and then if you ignore court orders you are in contempt of court, we don’t want to be in that place.

SR: What does that mean if you are in contempt of court?

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: If you are in contempt of court then you are breaching a court order just like anybody who ever breached an ASBO or anything else and you are facing sanctions that we do not want for any minister let alone a Prime Minister.

SR: Are you talking about prison?

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: This is the sort of stuff that … what I think is going on here is about Johnson and co deliberately using breaking the law as a kind of dog whistle because they think it makes them look tough but I just think it makes them look appalling which is why I want this to be sorted out in Parliament which is why shutting down Parliament and seeking to desert Parliament tomorrow so that we can crash out is terrible. So we need to … yes, we’re going to have a general election, it’s going to be sooner rather than later, it will be weeks not months but we will not allow them to use their sort of chaos theory and crash out without Parliament being able to have its say.

SR: The thing is, they are saying that they don’t want to be in this position and they are willing to go to the public to find out what the public think, have more democracy and call an election and it’s the Labour party that is blocking that.

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: So we will have an election and today we’ve launched our voting registration campaign and it is really important that all your viewers, whatever their views on Brexit or whether they prefer Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister, everyone should be registering to vote so that they can have their say. It is going to be sooner rather than later but we cannot crash out by default within a general election period and we cannot allow Boris Johnson and his colleagues to manipulate the date of the general election so that we crash out.

SR: That’s what they would say you are doing, that you’re trying to manipulate the date of the general election so that it’s after that deadline. Let’s have a quick look at what John McDonnell said on this show last weekend, he said: “Let me just say a message to Boris Johnson via you – general election, bring it on.”

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: Well I still say bring it on but it’s just that we won’t allow you to crash Britain out contrary to the will of Parliament and without putting that option to the people before they have had that opportunity. I’m talking weeks, not months. We are launching our voting registration campaign today, it is going to be very soon but I won’t stand by where you have got a Prime Minister who shuts down Parliament, who purges his once broad church party and tries to crash us out before there’s been a general election and that would be wholly undemocratic.

SR: You are talking about weeks not months, I am just trying to pin down what you mean by that? Do you mean there will be a general election in weeks not months or do you mean that you will give the green light in weeks not months?

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: Well I think quite possibly but forgive me, things are moving very fast. The other thing I would say is that Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the opposition but there are people in other opposition parties and people like the Conservative rebels who all share this approach, that it would be thoroughly irresponsible to behave like, I don't know, the Joker in the Dark Knight or something like that, and just go for chaos theory. I am just really worried that there are some people in Number 10 at the moment who literally believe in causing chaos and fear and polarisation in the streets in order to get their way and deliver a no deal Brexit that Parliament didn’t vote for, the people didn’t vote for, so they can do their cosy deals with their mates in Trump’s White House.

SR: I understand your frustration about what’s happening in Number 10, that’s coming through very clearly, but I just really want to pin you down on the timings here because this is important. Are you saying you are happy to have an election as long as it’s past that mid-October deadline of the Council or are you saying you are happy to have an election after the 31st October? What do you want?

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: Obviously I don’t speak for all the opposition leaders, I’m just the legal advisor to the Shadow Government but what I have been instructed at this point to say and what I believe is the priority, is that we have to guarantee that we don’t crash out in an election period and we have to guarantee that this incumbent in Number 10 is not able to use his willingness to disobey the law and to manipulate a general election date so that a crash out happens before we have an opportunity for that election. Those are the priorities so it is going to take perhaps a few weeks to lock that down but as soon as we’ve locked down those things I just said to you, we want that election.

SR: Before Christmas?

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: Oh goodness, goodness me, I certainly hope so.

SR: Now you are talking there that you’re worried about what Number 10 are doing but there will be some people who will look at the Labour party’s position and think you just don’t like democracy because you don’t want an election right now even though it’s what you’ve been calling for for years, you are saying you are not accepting the result of the referendum because you effectively feel we got it wrong so you want another go to give you the right answer. Why do you not trust the public?

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: I do trust the public and that’s why I want a general election …

SR: Just not yet.

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: I’m talking … I’m talking …

SR: You just don’t want people to have the opportunity to vote for a no deal …

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: No, just to be clear, if we have an election it is perfectly reasonable for Boris Johnson and his chums to say vote for us and we’ll give you no deal and …

SR: But that’s what he’s saying if there is an election now.

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: No, no, what I’m worried about is crashing out without the people having had their say in an election, do you see my point? It’s dirty tricks, it’s undemocratic dirty tricks when we say we can ignore Parliament and we may manipulate, we ignore the law, we ignore Parliament and we will keep the power to set the election date, manipulate the election date so that we crash out before that election may have happened. We are talking about ruthless, ruthless people who will sit here and smile at you and say, we’ll test the law but that means ignore the law. We are talking about people who will purge their party of people I disagree with like Ken Clarke and Justine Greening and Nicholas Soames and all the rest. I agree with them on some really basic rule of law civil liberties issues but of course I disagree with them about austerity and how to tackle poverty but now we are dealing with people who are anti-democratic, anti-rule of law. I want a general election as soon as possible but I cannot allow these people to shut down Parliament and ignore the law in the meantime.

SR: At the same time though, it is not just the Conservative party who are effectively having issues keeping their party together is it? There are people on Labour’s side as well who are grappling with these issues too. One person for example, John Mann, a Labour MP who wants to step down and become an anti-Semitism advisor and he gave a quote to the Sunday Times today where he said: “Corbyn has given the green light to the anti-Semites and having done so, has sat there and done nothing to turn that round. He has not just hijacked my political party, he’s hijacked its soul and ethics and I will never forgive him for that.” So there are people on your side too who think their party has been hijacked.

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: Well obviously I disagree with John Mann, he is one of two MPs that voted against the legislation to prevent a crash out. He is obviously very unhappy on the Labour benches at the moment and so he has made his decision and I personally wish him well in his future work.

SR: Are you alarmed by the news that the first Labour MP to be fighting reselection ahead of the next election is Diana Johnson, last year Backbencher of the Year, someone who has done some campaigning work on the blood contamination scandal?

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: Well what I would say about … as you appreciate I am not an MP and I have not had to go through these things that these people have to do as Members of Parliament representing their people. What I would say is having looked into it and been advised about the process, having this trigger system does not mean that she has been deselected. It is very common I’m told and …

SR: But it does mean she has to go through the reselection process ahead of the election.

SHAMI CHAKRABARTI: There will be a shortlist, it will be an all women shortlist and no doubt she’ll be on it. I don’t believe this is targeted and I’ve looked into it and the reasons you suggest, this is not some plot or some factional polarisation issue. There may be some other people like this but it is not organised, it’s not targeted, it’s not polarised and it’s perfectly possible that she will sail through it and be the candidate and if at some point, if when we get to the election there is a need to stop that, suspend that local democracy … we are a democratic party so it is important that MPs are answerable to their local party but if at some point we get too close to the election then it will be the National Executive of the party that keeps or suspends that process.

SR: Okay, thank you very much for being with us this morning.