Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Barry Gardiner MP


SOPHY RIDGE: Well you heard Tony Blair earlier criticising the Labour party’s delicate Brexit balancing trick and joining us now is the Shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner. Thank you for being on the programme this morning.


SR: Tony Blair says that Labour’s position on Brexit is destructive indecision, is he right?

BARRY GARDINER: Look, one of the things that I found extraordinary about your interview with Tony was in all of that he did not mention the word democracy and the fact is, and we’ve seen it in the polls that you showed up there about the support in the polls for the Brexit party. People in this country are angry, they are angry that the referendum result has not been delivered on by an incompetent government and there is the protest that is being signalled by those figures, 34% saying that they would go for the Brexit Party. There are no policies in this party, no policies, just one which is that they want to leave the European Union without a deal. Now this is extraordinary, Sophy, absolutely extraordinary because we cannot let Mr Nigel Farage redefine what the referendum was about. The referendum was about leaving the EU, at that time there was no talk of no-deal, there was no talk of going onto WTO terms, we were going to leave with a deal so he’s changed his position on that. More than that, if you look at the time of the referendum he actually held up Norway, Farage actually held up Norway as a model of what Britain could be as an independent sovereign nation outside of the EU yet a part of a single market. So what we are seeing is a huge amount of anger and what he is subtly doing, or less than subtly doing, Mr Farage is now trying to con the British people that what they voted for and hasn’t been delivered is actually now what he says it is and it’s not.

SR: So listening to what you are saying there about democracy, about what people voted for, is Labour a pro-Brexit party now?

BARRY GARDINER: Tony was right to say that we have always as a party, and most of the MPs in the Labour party believe that we should have remained in the European Union, we campaigned for that at the referendum and most of the Labour MPs voted to remain but when that referendum came in, we said look, we made you a promise. We made you a promise that what you decided is what we would do and when we went to the Supreme Court, when it came to the Supreme Court about triggering Article 50, the Supreme Court got it absolutely right. The Supreme Court said that the referendum decided that we should leave the EU, it is now for Parliament to decide how we leave the EU.

SR: So just to be crystal clear, Labour, the Labour position is that we should leave the EU?

BARRY GARDINER: That’s what we’ve been trying to do with these negotiations with the government, that’s why we’re there. Look, what happened is the Conservative party, Theresa May’s party, could not negotiate a decent deal with Europe and then because it was such a bad deal they couldn’t get it through Parliament. We’ve been saying now since, what, February of last year, that we believe there is an alternative way of doing this and …

SR: Are you trying to bail out the Tories then?

BARRY GARDINER: Look, we’re trying to bail out the country because of the Tory’s failure, of course, because we believe we have to act in the best interests of the country but that’s not just simply the economic interests which we are trying to protect with a customs union, that we are trying to protect by ensuring the rights and protections that we have in the workplace are always maintained and uplifted. We are absolutely clear about that but on the other side we believe it’s important that as a country we respect the promises that we made and the democratic decision of the people. We’re the only party, the only party, that is actually trying to appeal not to this half of the population or that half of the population but …

SR: Theresa May would probably argue she is trying to do the same thing. You can disagree with her methods, can’t you, you can disagree with what she’s doing but she would argue that she is trying to do that as well by putting forward a deal. Are you optimistic that the talks with the Labour party will work?

BARRY GARDINER: She has singularly failed and she needs to recognise that and that’s why ultimately, after we should have, after the date we were supposed to have left the EU, she had to come to the Labour party and say, do you know what guys, I think maybe, maybe you might be right after all, that if we can protect rights, protect our environment and maybe go for a customs union, maybe we can actually get this deal over the line and through Parliament. Now I don't know whether this deal is going to work but you saw what happened last week, you saw the way in which the government broke the confidentiality agreement that they had about those talks and what we’ve seen is different Cabinet Ministers and different putative successors to Theresa May all going in different directions …

SR: Oh come on, the Labour front bench is as well, let’s be honest.

BARRY GARDINER: No, no, look, we’re talking about the view on the Brexit negotiations, right, and what they’ve been doing is outbidding each other in the leadership deal to try to be the most right wing they can possibly be because they think that’s what the Tory grassroots will vote in …

SR: I am keen to ask you about the US-China process and …

BARRY GARDINER: Well so am I but can I just finish that though? That is to say that we don’t know at this stage, even if we could negotiate a deal, what we don’t know is if the successor to Theresa May would actually deliver on it and that’s one of the big sticking points that we have.

SR: Okay, now we have seen an escalation of the US-China trade war haven’t we? As the Shadow International Trade Secretary, how concerned are you by what you’re seeing?

BARRY GARDINER: I am hugely concerned on two fronts. I am concerned because of the global implications of this. What you have is a superpower in the United States that has had dominance on the global stage for the past 50 or 60 years and you have the emergence of China and it’s not simply a one on one trade war here. You see with the emergence of China and their belt and road initiative that this is also geostrategic and it’s being played out at two levels this fight between America and the US (sic), it’s being played out at an economic level with the tariffs that Trump put on Chinese goods just last week, he increased the tariffs from 10 to 25%. Now that in itself could knock $65 billion off American GDP so this is huge in terms of the way it can affect the world. World growth will suffer as a result of this but if it escalates both as an economic and as a geostrategic conflict, then the impact on growth could be enormous. We could be seeing – and in fact some of the banks now are modelling figures that suggest there could be in the next five years a 17% reduction in global GDP. That’s bigger than the 2008 financial crisis.

SR: Just finally as well, I’m keen to get your thoughts on the Sunday Times Rich List in the newspaper today. Jeremy Corbyn said it’s a reminder of the grotesque inequality that we see but a lot of people on this list though would be employing an awful lot of people and paying an awful lot of tax, shouldn’t we be making them feel welcome?

BARRY GARDINER: It’s not a matter of not making them feel welcome. Look, I remember, you probably don’t, that …

SR: Flattery will get you anywhere!

BARRY GARDINER: … under Margaret Thatcher the highest rate of tax for nine years I think it was, was 60%. We’re not talking anything like that, what we’re saying is look, it’s fine for people to make money and employ people, that’s great, we want a thriving economy but they should pay a fair rate of tax and that’s why if you look at what we were announcing last week, was to say why should it be that a 17 year old kid is getting paid half of what somebody who is 24 is getting paid in the same job? Now, those low age related minimum wages, that’s not acceptable and it is certainly not acceptable when there are people who are making billions of pounds and not paying those people properly because we have people who are in work but on food banks, in work but needing support from the rest of society. Taxation is the price we pay for civilisation and I think everybody should pay a fair rate of tax.

SR: Okay, Barry Gardiner, we’re out of time, thank you very much for being on the programme.