Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Caroline Flint


SOPHY RIDGE: Now we are joined from Doncaster by the Labour MP Caroline Flint, thank you very much for being with us. Now you are someone who voted for a Brexit deal unlike some of your colleagues, are you concerned by the resignation of Amber Rudd where she simply says that she doesn’t believe that getting a deal is the government’s main objective?

CAROLINE FLINT: Of course I’m concerned, Sophie. At the heart of all this is trust, can we trust the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to do what he said he would do which is to work to achieve a deal and on the other side of it is can we trust those who often also don’t want a deal because they want to overturn the referendum result of 2016 and that’s why myself and others have formed a group called MPs For A Deal because there is still a heartfelt desire from many MPs across all parties to get a deal before the 31st October but others have to play their part and the chief of those is the Prime Minister.

SR: You talk there about your group of MPs trying to get a deal, there’s been bills put forward to try and say can we please have a chance to vote on Theresa May’s deal again. Now you voted for Theresa May’s deal, are you a bit frustrated by some of your colleagues who have had a bit of a late conversion to it? They weren’t prepared to hold their noses and vote for it last time but now they are happy to do it once the ship’s sailed.

CAROLINE FLINT: Well we’re not saying that we want to vote again on any deal that’s gone before, what we are saying is, if you remember before Theresa May stood down there was an agreement on the table that wasn’t voted on and which there was considerable support across Parliament for different elements of it and that actually also include the deal that we did vote on. What we are saying is, have that agreement bill that was left on the table, let us all see what we agree on and have a grown up debate about how we move forward. Build on where we agree but also seek a deal to finalise this episode of our political history so we can all move on. So it’s not about voting on a deal that’s gone before but it is about having a proper grown up conversation and moving forward so we can actually get beyond Brexit and talk about those issues of importance to people in the country – fighting crime, poverty, jobs and our economy – which sadly have not had the attention they deserved over the last three years.

SR: How optimistic are you that Boris Johnson will bring a deal back for you to vote on?

CAROLINE FLINT: Well to put it bluntly, the last week hasn’t raised my confidence by any means but I’m confident that there are MPs across the House who will use everything they can, every hour of every day up to the 31st October, to put pressure on the Prime Minister and build support across Parliament to achieve a deal and it is about trust and Boris Johnson has to mean what he says. He says he will work to secure a deal and he has to prove Amber Rudd wrong when she tells us that not enough energy and attention and time is going into securing a deal as opposed to waving the flag for no deal. The onus is on the Prime Minister to rise above party politics, to put the country first and achieve a deal before the 31st October.

SR: The reality is, if there is to be a chance of a deal going through, it is going to need support from Labour as well now that the Prime Minister hasn’t got a majority. Even if he gets every single Conservative MP onside it is not going to be enough. Labour’s policy however is to have another referendum, I mean I visited Bury North this week, how do you think that’s going to go down in some of those key marginals?

CAROLINE FLINT: Well I watched your segment on Bury and actually I thought it was really interesting, the comments from people on the streets there, I think are very similar to Doncaster but also very similar to other places in the country that voted Remain. I think it expressed the view of people feeling weary by what has been going on in Parliament and in politics and a desire for us all to move on. I want to be able to look Leave voters in the eye and say look, I respected the outcome of the referendum, we have left the European Union, we have control over our laws and borders but I also want us to be able to say to Remain voters, look we respect your concerns and we will leave in an orderly way, making sure we can protect our economy, protect workers’ rights, our environmental standards, ensure we can still work on security issues across our European continent and in that way we can bring both sides together but we do need some resolution on this and I do believe there are Labour members and Tory members and even others who would like to see that happen. Don’t forget Sophy, it is still Labour’s policy that in a general election our first task will be to negotiate a Brexit deal.

SR: You say that it’s your policy to negotiate a Brexit deal and yet members of your shadow cabinet have said they will still vote to remain and still want to have a second referendum where they would campaign for remain. That is not exactly going to encourage the EU into giving a good Brexit deal is it?

CAROLINE FLINT: Look, there is a lot of discussion about what is the mood music that surrounds negotiations. Some like Boris Johnson seem to think that threatening no deal is the way forward, others believe that actually saying we seriously want to get a deal is the answer. I think what we need to see is less of the rhetoric but more focus on getting a deal and look, Labour has said it will be committed to negotiating a Brexit deal, there is much we already agree with, with what was on the table from Theresa May’s period as Prime Minister. What we also have in the party, and I’ll be honest about it, are strong views who feel that should be put to a second referendum. I don’t agree with that but if there is a Labour government and there is a vote in Parliament, people have to make their own minds up. I will back a Labour government to secure a deal and to put it into action, I – and I know numbers of other Labour MPs – will not support a second referendum. Others will have to choose their own course.

SR: You say that you want to see a Labour government and of course the way to get that is through a general election. Will you be voting for an early election this week?

CAROLINE FLINT: No, because I think it is our duty in this valuable time and the weeks ahead of us before the 31st October, to secure a deal. I think it is in the interest of all our parties and the country to focus on that and then, I think once we’ve done that we can have a general election and focus on the issues like poverty, as I said, and fighting crime and jobs and the economy because we all know that without some resolution here, those vital issues for constituents in Doncaster and Bury and elsewhere, will not get the attention they deserve so I believe it is important that the Prime Minister focuses on bringing us together and that’s what he promised. He promised he would find a resolution to this, he promised he would work for a deal, he said that no deal was not his preference. Well Mr Johnson, abide by your words.

SR: If there was an election before the Brexit deadline, do you think the Conservatives would win?

CAROLINE FLINT: It’s hard to tell really at the moment. I think what we found in 2017, that actually Theresa May’s strategy did not play out. I think around the country there are polarised views not helped by the Prime Minister I have to say since he’s taken up office, that haven’t helped any of the debate. My concern is as well too is not only will those views be polarised at the ballot box but actually there may be many people who are disenchanted with politics, people who voted Remain, people who voted Leave, who may not vote at all and for the sake of democracy that’s why I believe we need to find a way through this and I urge MPs, to my colleagues across the House, back our group MPs For A Deal because to be honest that is the sensible and reasonable way forward that can bring us all together and importantly our country together again so we can get back to normal politics.

SR: And just a quick thought from you while we have you please. Your colleague Diane Johnson is going through a reselection fight ahead of the next election. Backbencher of the Year last year, are you worried about this?

CAROLINE FLINT: I am very concerned at a time that we should be facing outwards we are having these internal arguments and whether a general election happens before the 31st October, we know we are on course for a general election and I would have thought our main priority is not to be having administrative selections, is not to be having AGMs, to be not even having normal Labour party meetings that are often very bureaucratic but actually we should all be focused on campaigning so if we are really serious about recognising a general election is on the cards, whether that comes sooner or later, let’s focus on that and allow people like Diana Johnson to do what she does best which is being an excellent constituency and national Member of Parliament.

SR: Okay, Caroline Flint, thank you very much for joining us this Sunday morning