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SOPHY RIDGE: Pressure is growing on Labour’s front bench to back a second Brexit referendum and it’s well known that some of the Shadow Cabinet are open to the idea. One of those who perhaps remains a bit more sceptical is the Shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner, who joins us now, thank you very much for being with us. I want to start off though with the NHS because we’ve heard from the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, about the government’s 10 Year Plan which is all about what they are going to be doing with the £20 billion that the Prime Minister promised the NHS for its 70th birthday. What do you make of their plans?
BARRY GARDINER: Well look, I would have more confidence in their 10 Year Plan if the 5 Year Plan that they announced in 2014 had actually been delivered on. It hasn’t and we now have a situation where 2.8 million people are waiting more than four hours at A&E. When we left office that figure was 350,000 so eight times as many people are now waiting at A&E. If you look at the cancer waits, the urgent treatment, the targets that were set there, they have not been met and in fact 150,000 people now in every month – actually that’s not quite true, except for one, since April in 2014 – in every single month they have missed that urgent treatment for new cancer patients. These are the things that are going badly wrong. You talked to Matt Hancock about the 100,000 vacancies in the NHS and he said, oh well there is a plan coming out for that later in the year but actually if you look at what the King’s Fund has been saying, they are saying that actually 250, potentially 350,000 vacancies are going to be needed to be filled in the next ten years so we really are at a point where it is not just a matter of having a plan that says we will spend this much money, it is having the people there capable of delivering that. That human resource is so important and of course it is then connecting that up with social care which this government has done absolutely nothing on.
SR: At the same time though, is it not a good thing that the Health Secretary is talking about prevention rather than cure, stopping people getting to that point in the future?
BARRY GARDINER: Of course but Sophy, you will see on the prevention side what the government has done is it has precisely taken Labour party policy – I’m delighted they have but they have taken Labour party policy and …
SR: It doesn’t matter really who originally came up with the policy?
BARRY GARDINER: It doesn’t and I’m delighted that they have. We need a much greater focus on prevention but in that case you have got to say well where is the front loading of the money coming from and it’s not. And it is also about the way in which if you are not looking after the elderly, if you are not looking after the people with long term chronic conditions and ensuring that they get the social care, then actually they are in the beds and they are part of a system that isn’t functioning. We need people to be moving through from the healthcare to the social care that they need. They can’t do that unless the resource is there.
SR: Now I want to talk to you about Brexit. We had a couple of weeks off and now we’re back to the fray and the debate is coming up soon, pressure is growing on the Labour party over a second referendum. There is new polling out from the People’s Vote showing that the vast majority of Labour members want to see it, they actually say if Labour don’t try and stop Brexit then it will damage them electorally, that’s according to the People’s Vote. What’s your feeling on a second referendum, would you like to see one?
BARRY GARDINER: Look, we took five, six hours, at our party conference to get all the disparate views in our party together and to sit down and to talk to each other and I think part of the problem at the moment is that people seem to be talking, they are listening to each other but only so far as they can then contradict what the other person has said, that’s why they are listening instead of listening to understand. What we did at our party conference is we actually listened to all the different elements of our party …
SR: But 75% of your party want a second referendum.
BARRY GARDINER: No, no, we came up with a very clear chronology and that was we would look at what Theresa May brought back, we would then, if she could not get that through we would then say it is right that a government that cannot get its flagship legislation through, cannot command a majority in the House of Commons, that there should then be a call for a general election. That is the quickest way of getting a people’s vote, you can have a general election in four and a half weeks.
SR: If there were a general election …
BARRY GARDINER: Whereas if it were a referendum that would have to go to the Electoral Commission to determine what the question or questions would be, it would then have to have a twelve week campaigning period, it would be in all, the legislation would have to be passed, primary legislation – it would take much longer. We say that …
SR: But if there were a general election does that mean it would be Labour’s policy to have a second referendum?
BARRY GARDINER: What we have said is that at any general election we obviously will have a manifesto to go into that, we would set out what we would seek to negotiate in Europe to try and deliver. We would try, we would try to actually get something that would reunite the 52% and the 48% of our country. Every poll that exists at the moment shows that our country is still deeply, deeply divided. It is the responsibility of government to try and unite the country, not to divide it.
SR: And so do you think if there were a second referendum …
BARRY GARDINER: My own divisions would deepen, I do think that but I think the way of trying to tackle this, for us we know the reason Theresa May has had such a botched set of negotiations is because of her red lines. If we as a new incoming Labour government were to go to Europe without those red lines, we know that we could get a different, better deal and that’s what we want to try and achieve. At that stage it makes sense to go to the country and say here we are, this is what we’ve managed to negotiate, this is the deal that we have managed to conclude because we don’t have the same red lines as Theresa May, we think it’s a better way forward and it seems to me, at a personal level, what I would then say is that is the time when we would then say to people now make your decision on what we have managed to conclude.
SR: Some people might say that is chasing unicorns, to say you could go to Brussels and get a better deal when Brussels has said this is the only deal …
BARRY GARDINER: No, no, no, sorry …
SR: Unless you end the red line on immigration.
BARRY GARDINER: No, Brussels has not said that, they said what is stopping us getting the better deal is Theresa May’s red lines and the critical one of those of course is in relation to the customs union and the way in which that impacts upon the deal that she has had to construct.
SR: So if Labour’s plan is to be in a customs union, where you couldn’t strike independent trade deals, you’d be out of a job wouldn’t you?
BARRY GARDINER: Well no, not necessarily but actually that is the least of my worries and the least important thing for the country. What is important is that we would have a trade policy in which we and the European Union together would be able to determine the trade agreements that we then completed. So that is what our proposal is, that we would have a customs union just like there is in Mercosur in South America where each individual sovereign nation is able to determine whether a trade agreement that they conclude jointly with other countries should go ahead or not.
SR: But the EU isn’t going to give the UK a say in negotiating its own trade deals though is it?
BARRY GARDINER: Not its own, the EU, the EU would be in a position – in fact it is perfectly possible under the EU’s treaties, to have a situation where the UK and the EU jointly determine whether a trade agreement with another country is beneficial. We cannot be in a position, and this where our position respects the referendum result in a way that the Prime Minister’s does not, we have said that we cannot be simply rule takers in this situation where in a customs union the EU could determine that we were forced into a trade agreement, potentially with America, which was detrimental to our interests although perhaps beneficial for the rest of the EU. We can’t be forced into that position and that’s why we have always said that a customs union that we would negotiate would be one in which we have a say, we cannot be forced into that position. That respects what people felt at the referendum, that they didn’t want to be rule takers and that’s why we’ve put that in place but if you look at what has happened in the backstop arrangement, that’s not the situation and I think that’s why many people are so concerned about [inaudible].
SR: Okay, Barry Gardiner, thank you very much.
BARRY GARDINER: Thank you.