Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Chuka Umunna MP Labour


SOPHY RIDGE: Well the debate on a second referendum is raging in the Labour party and today the People’s Vote campaign have released a survey of 25,000 people suggesting Labour could fall 16 points behind the Conservatives if they allow Brexit to go through. Well joining us now is the Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, thank you very much for being with us.

CHUKA UMUNNA: Happy New Year, Sophy.

SR: Happy New Year. Well I guess you are hoping for new year, fresh start, get some movement to the gridlock that we seem to be in. Your answer to all this is a second referendum, how many MPs do you think are now in support of having another vote?

CHUKA UMUNNA: Well I think first of all we’ve actually got to have the meaningful vote on the Prime Minister’s so-called deal. I am not going to be disingenuous and pretend that we have the numbers for a People’s Vote on the terms of our withdrawal from the European Union right now but obviously what happens now and happened before now will be very different after we’ve had that vote and let’s be absolutely clear – the Prime Minister gave a pledge on the 17th December at the despatch box in the House of Commons that we would have that meaningful vote in the week of the 14th January. Now if she doesn’t hold that vote, she arguably will have misled the House of Commons and there will be moves on a cross-party basis from the back benches to ensure that the will of the House is tested on whether or not they wish to support her so-called deal.

SR: So that would happen if the government delays the vote again as there might be reports that it might do?

CHUKA UMUNNA: That’s right, there are various parliamentary tools that we can use to illustrate the will of the House and frankly if the government doesn’t comply with the terms of the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 which provides for government to do this, the statement on 21st January and then there is a determination, there’s a motion brought forward as to what will happen next, then arguably the government would be in contempt of Parliament and so they should be in no doubt that if we have further delay, which would be grossly irresponsible – we’ve got 82 days to go till Brexit exit day, just over 11 weeks and one thing that people who may not necessarily be convinced of a People’s Vote are convinced of, is that they need to avoid a no-deal Brexit. None of our constituents I think voted for that and they certainly didn’t vote to make themselves poorer either.

SR: I’m sure that none of your constituents or a very small number perhaps of your constituents perhaps would like to see that, you are in one of the most remain supporting constituencies in the country but in other parts of the country polling shows that actually there is a significant number of people who would prefer a no-deal for example to the Prime Minister’s deal.

CHUKA UMUNNA: Well I don't think we can say categorically one way or another what the will of the people is actually. You are right to pick me up on that but frankly that is the whole reason why we have been arguing for the last few months for a People’s Vote to determine what it is now because 2016 was one thing but we don't really, any of us, none of us can really say for certain what the will of the people is in 2018, not least there are over two million young people who can now vote who couldn’t vote before who polls would indicate overwhelmingly do not want to see the country going down this trajectory and I think for the Labour party let’s not forget that in 2017 a huge number of younger generations voted for the Labour party hoping that we would take the country on a different trajectory and I’m not sure that we would be forgiven for robbing them of their futures if we don’t actually give them a say on this …

SR: And do you think they will blame Labour for that?

CHUKA UMUNNA: I think they’ll blame, well it will be a plague on all your houses but given that, you know, we know that young people overwhelmingly have been supporting the Labour party of late, it is quite clear that they are not going to look well on a Labour party that they see threatening their future prospects and we’ve all got to bear that in mind in my view.

SR: One thing that I struggle to get my head around is that the People’s Vote campaign is trying to push through a referendum that many people will see as divisive, many people will see as a betrayal of the first referendum and yet you can’t even agree on the details of what that would be. What do you think should be on the ballot paper because it seems that whenever I ask people I get a different answer?

CHUKA UMUNNA: Well ultimately this is something for Parliament to determine and let’s not forget …

SR: But you are a campaigner …

CHUKA UMUNNA: Hang on a minute, if you look at the People’s Vote campaign, we have people from the left to the right of politics, we’ve got nationalists from the SNP, from Plaid, we have people who have got a different view on things all together in this big tent so from a point of view of unity of campaign, I don’t think anyone can criticise us for not having an eclectic group of people but look, I am quite clear that clearly the current deal that we have as a member of the European Union, and the government’s own research shows this, is the best deal that we can possibly have, so that has to be on the ballot paper and I do think that you have to have an option on that ballot paper that would please the likes of Peter Bone, that is a hard Brexit, so to speak. Those two choices in some way, shape or form would need to be presented to the British people and of course the position we’re in now is very different. The argument we were having before two years ago was based on hypotheticals of what could happen if we voted to leave the European Union. Now we actually know what will happen, we have much more of a concrete picture and we know however you voted …

SR: So you’d need three options then?

CHUKA UMUNNA: Well I would say two or three, I am pretty open minded about it but ultimately it’s for Parliament and of course the Electoral Commission to determine but, by the way, let’s not presume that the Prime Minister’s deal isn’t going to pass. Many people have been focusing on …

SR: Do you think it might pass?

CHUKA UMUNNA: Who knows because we don’t know what she is going to announce. She is going to be going on another programme in an hour’s time, we don’t know what she is going to say there, we don’t know what she’s going to be saying in Parliament this week and I don't think we can be complacent. The problem with this deal is not only the backstop which people have a concern threatens the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom, it is for the first time certainly in our lives we have a government pursuing a course which it has already told us is going to make our country poorer. That is an extraordinary thing. This deal that she is putting forward to people is going to do immeasurable damage to our economy. There is a certain irony, in the Mail on Sunday today she is saying if MPs don’t vote for her deal it is going to threaten jobs. She has already put out research, her own economic impact assessments showing that her deal is going to threaten people’s jobs and businesses in this country.

SR: I want to talk to you about no deal because it is clearly something that people on your side of the argument are very concerned about. Can Parliament actually stop no deal happening because surely it’s the default position if you can’t agree?

CHUKA UMUNNA: Well that’s a very good question. Legally there are two things that would need to happen: first of all, in order to change exit day, which is stipulated in law to be 29th March of this year, a Minister would have to put forward a regulation to change that date. Now we are unclear as whether that necessitates a vote of the House of Commons but it would have to be at the initiative of a Minister. Secondly, we would have to get an extension to the Article 50 process in the European Union and this is the key thing for me. I accept that there are some colleagues both on the Tory and the Labour benches across the House who have misgivings about having a People’s Vote but there is one thing the European Union have been absolutely clear about: if you want an extension to Article 50 we are not going to grant you an extension to give you more time for renegotiation as has been mooted by some, that is not going to happen, but we will grant you an extension for a democratic vote. So the People’s Vote, if in the short to the medium term you want to avoid no deal, that is your route to stopping our country crashing out of the European Union in a very disastrous way. Another important point, Sophy, it has been mooted in papers over the last few days that if the Prime Minister fails to get her plan through the House of Commons she will simply keep bringing it back again and again to the House of Commons. I have consulted with the Clerks of the House of Commons on this, you cannot simply bring the same motion again and again and again.

SR: So according to the Clerks, she cannot bring it back?

CHUKA UMUNNA: You cannot do that and even if you sought say to bring a different motion through changing one word, if in substance it is the same thing, under the rules of the House of Commons, you can’t just keep bringing it again and again and again. What I would say to the Prime Minister is, listen to the House of Commons. She turns up every time, gives us these statements, tells us her deal is the best deal, Parliament says no – including on her own benches – and she tries to ignore it. You cannot carry on putting your head in the sand when we have the clock basically is still ticking and she should be in no doubt, certainly in terms of what the back benchers are saying, where so many of the initiatives on Brexit seem to have been coming over the last few months, we will not stand for a no deal scenario and we are not going to allow her to simply delay this vote further. There are different parliamentary tools at our disposal and we will use them.

SR: Just finally, have you heard of CMP?


SR: According to Westminster gossips in the Evening Standard, it is Chuka’s new party. Is it going to happen?

CHUKA UMUNNA: Well let me tell you two things about that. This thing, this concept arises in two scenarios. One when the People’s Vote campaign is going full throttle and making a success, Brexiteer voices – frankly the Labour party and the Conservative party pedal this nonsense. The second thing is when the ugly face of anti-Semitism rears its head in the Labour party too and what this is used is a huge deflection exercise from the real issues here. First of all the Labour party has to deal with anti-Semitism, as I have said to you before on this show and secondly, let’s stop messing around, let’s focus on the real issue here.

SR: So it’s not going to happen then?

CHUKA UMUNNA: Look, I want us to stop this disaster that’s happening, everything else is deflection, everything else is distraction and I don’t get to determine these things. As I’ve said, in terms of any new party, it’s not for me to determine as I’ve said to you on this show before, that’s for the leadership of the Labour party and frankly of the Conservative party too. If they want to keep their parties together that’s for them, not for me.

SR: Okay, thank you very much.