Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Caroline Flint Labour MP


SOPHY RIDGE: Our next guest, Caroline Flint, represents an area which voted strongly to leave the EU and when I visited Don Valley last October there was certainly no mood for a second referendum then so let’s find out what Caroline Flint makes of her party’s decision to back another vote. Thank you for being with us this morning, so how do you think Labour’s position is going to go down in your constituency?

CAROLINE FLINT: Well Labour’s position is still to seek an improved offer. In fact John McDonnell earlier on said we need a great British compromise and I agree with him. It’s not about a Tory deal, it’s actually not about a Labour deal, it’s about an improved Brexit deal and myself and so many Labour MPs in the general election 2017 who made a promise to our voters to respect the outcome of the referendum and that was Labour’s policy so my appeal to John McDonnell, to Jeremy Corbyn, to Kier Starmer is allow MPs to have a free vote on an improved deal so those MPs who want a second referendum can vote for that but those of us who want to keep our promises to our electorate can also keep faith with those people and vote for an improved deal. Secondly, to my Labour colleagues, it is about an improved deal and if you want to support a transition period, if you want make sure that EU nationals rights are maintained, if you want to make sure as some of us have been negotiating for an improved worker’s rights offer, but more importantly, make sure we don’t go out without a deal, I urge my Labour colleagues to consider voting for an improved deal.

SR: It is interesting to talk about voting for an improved deal here, does that mean that you are seriously considering voting in favour of the deal that Theresa May comes back with?

CAROLINE FLINT: Well we already have on the table that protects EU nationals and more has been added to that since the vote in January, the waiving of fees for example. I have been in negotiation and discussion about an improved offer for worker’s rights and what that means for your listeners is as we leave the European Union, we maintain those employment rights, health and safety rights, environmental standards that we currently share but going forward, we make sure that Parliament can consider that where those rights are improved by the European Union, we debate it in Parliament and vote on it to see if we want to adopt those rights and I think that’s important, it is one of the key red lines that Labour had in terms of its negotiations with the government. I urge the front bench of the Labour party to continue putting on the pressure as those of us have been doing to secure that as we come to the vote on an improved deal next week.

SR: So if you get those assurances on improved rights, will you vote for Theresa May’s deal?

CAROLINE FLINT: Well I have got to see it before I believe it but we have been negotiating for those set of conditions and if an improved deal comes back and that is guaranteed, if we are going into the situation of a transition where we can go into detail to discuss in more detail trade and security arrangements, EU nationals being protected but, importantly, more than anything else, I don’t support bowing out without a deal and if it’s a choice between the improved deal and no deal, I think we should seriously consider supporting an improved deal and that represents the principles behind my voting and my approach to this whole debate over the last thousand days.

SR: How many other Labour MPs do you think are in the same position as you, seriously consider voting for what you describe as an improved deal?

CAROLINE FLINT: I think there are many Labour MPs who share my concerns that not only after the referendum in 2016 did we support Labour party policy to respect the result but also we stood on a manifesto in 2017 whereby Labour said the decision to leave the European Union has been settled by the British people and we would work to secure the best deal. It is in that spirit that we made our pledges to our electorate and those of us who want to stand by that want to have that respected right now … I think there are something like 60 or 70 Labour MPs who feel as strongly as I do against the second referendum but also I think it is important to recognise many of those MPs also feel that we have to move on, we have to stop a no deal and if there’s an improved offer on the table, Labour should engage with that sincerely. As I’ve said before, Sophy, this isn’t about a Tory deal or a Labour deal, this is about trying to secure an improved Brexit deal and allow us to move forward because I want to – and I know this is shared by many of my Labour colleagues – we want to get on to the domestic policies that we feel haven’t been addressed in the last thousand days because of the Brexit discussion and I think we need to get on to that front because I think therein lies the opportunity for Labour to make inroads to secure the next general election and Brexit is stopping us doing it. If we are seen to not keep our promises that we made, then I think that bodes ill for the Labour party.

SR: So just to be – and I’m really trying to push you because I think it is quite important – how many MPs, Labour MPs, do you think could potentially vote for a deal when it comes back to Parliament?

CAROLINE FLINT: Well I think that all depends on the front bench. I think if there was a free vote, a number, 10s, 20s, 30s, would vote for an improved offer, I think that’s the reality. The problem is here is that we are being asked to break our promises under a whipping system that does not allow us to keep faith with our electorate. Now look, Brexit has divided the country, it has divided parties, it has divided the Labour party so my appeal to Jeremy, to Keir, is allow us to have on this big issue a free vote so those who want to stop Brexit, those who want to have a second referendum can vote for that but those of us who want to keep faith with the promises that we’ve made can also keep faith with those pledges too and I believe to that end a free vote is absolutely justifiable.

SR: Now we know that many Labour MPs are really agonising the state of the Labour party right now, whether that’s because of concerns over Brexit or anti-Semitism, and I just wonder what your position is about the assessment of the health of the Labour party right now?

CAROLINE FLINT: This year, Sophy, I will have been a member of the Labour party for 40 years, I joined in 1979 and I would have to say on the issue of anti-Semitism, I have never known anything like it in terms of people who seem to have come into our party with hard core anti-Semitic views. The last three years have just shown that this is a phenomena that has not been there in the Labour party before and I’m not just saying that, NEC member Jon Lansman, who founded Momentum, is saying it too and to that end I think the Labour party, whilst it has improved its structures to deal with this, it’s not really a structural problem in that sense, it’s an action problem and what I want to see is, whether it’s a couple of hundred or more, hard core anti-Semites kicked out of our party and that needs to be done effectively and quickly.

SR: I know you have very different views on Brexit to The Independent Group who split from the Labour party but do you ever look across at Ian Austin, who quit the party to sit as an Independent, and think ‘I understand why you did that and I could be tempted to do the same’?

CAROLINE FLINT: No, I won’t be tempted to do the same but let me say this, when people like Luciana Berger, Joan Ryan – a friend of mine and still a friend of mine, when Ian Austin left the Labour party and actually Mike Gapes as well who I have known for many, many, many years – that was a week of sorrow to see those colleagues go. I don’t agree with them, it’s clear, on the Brexit issue, Ian Austin and I have more common ground on that matter, but I think more than anything else that stands out is the bullying, the racism and intimidation that my friend and colleague, Luciana Berger, suffered was absolutely unacceptable and the party should have stood up much, much earlier to deal with that. The last two weeks should be seen as a time of sorrow for the Labour party and we have to think about why those members left, rather than as in some quarters being triumphant about it. Our party is a broad church to be honest of social reformers who want social justice. We were founded to achieve that, we were founded to achieve that through winning seats to gain power through government and for our party we need to make sure that we recognise that this sort of disruption, this sort of factionism, this sort of sectarianism, will not help Jeremy Corbyn win a general election.

SR: Okay, thank you very much, Caroline Flint.