Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with David Gauke Justice Secretary


NIALL PATERSON: Conservative MPs not running for the party leadership are becoming something of a rare breed these days but we have managed to find one, the Justice Secretary David Gauke. Mr Gauke, a very good morning to you.

DAVID GAUKE: Good morning.

NP: I suppose I should just check, you’re not running for the leadership?

DAVID GAUKE: I’m still not running for the leadership.

NP: So who are you supporting?

DAVID GAUKE: Well I think the first thing to ask is what are the qualities that we need. Obviously the biggest issue is Brexit and I think we need candidates who will address this issue with clarity, not base their approach on wishful thinking, recognise the harsh realities. I think we need candidates who can communicate, can beat Jeremy Corbyn and can unite the country. I think there are a number of good candidates, I’ve sat round the Cabinet table, I’ve heard Michael Gove, very impressive round the Cabinet table in setting out the issues. I think Matt Hancock is running an excellent pro-business campaign but I’m going to support Rory Stewart. I’ve worked very closely with Rory in terms of the Ministry of Justice, I’ve seen his ability to be both strategic and on top of the details as a minister. He’s an excellent communicator, I think he has got an ability to connect with people, I think he has got an ability to bring people together in order to find a way through the Brexit impasse and I think he could win a general election.

NP: I was going to say, does he have the ability to be elected leader of the Conservative party? On the numbers it doesn’t look like it.

DAVID GAUKE: Well clearly Rory is an underdog and in some respects he is not a conventional politician and not a conventional candidate but I think there’s some real strengths in that and my view is that I want to vote for the candidate who I think is best placed to meet the tests that I’ve set out and I think Rory does that. As I say, there are some very good other candidates as well so it’s a difficult choice for someone in my perspective but having worked closely with Rory, he is a serious figure, very, very thoughtful, articulate. I think he has got an ability to connect with the public and connect with the people that we need to bring over to ensure that we can break this impasse and I think he would be a very good Prime Minister.

NP: So what is his solution to the Brexit problem then that you find so attractive?

DAVID GAUKE: Well I think the first thing to say is Rory recognises the choices that are available and some of the consequences of those choices and I think that is an important starting point. He’s talked about how we can make use of Citizen’s Assemblies to try to break that through but essentially I think the qualities that he brings in terms of an ability to communicate, bring people over, I think working with all sides of the House of Commons and indeed I think he would be respected within the European Union and therefore able to make a bit more progress than others might be able to do so I think he’s a strong candidate but as I say, there are some other very strong candidates there as well.

NP: I have seen words from you in the past warning the Conservative party about a shift towards populism, Rory Stewart clearly doesn’t fall into that category, who does?

DAVID GAUKE: Well I’m not here to be critical of any of the candidate, you’ll understand that I’m not going to and also we’re at a very early stage in this campaign but the point that I was warning against is that if we seek to narrow our support essentially to a hard Brexit position, that we no longer seek to be a broad church, that we go down a particular approach that I think we would struggle to win the support of pro-business voters, of perhaps younger voters, more liberal voters who voted for us particularly in 2015 and in large parts of the country whether it be London or Scotland or parts of the Home Counties, the Conservative party which has traditionally been very strong, would not have the reach, not have the appeal that we have had in the past.

NP: When you say populist, don’t you actually mean popular? Boris Johnson of course is far, far more popular with grassroots, rank and file Conservatives, not anyone else who is running for the leadership.

DAVID GAUKE: Well I think what I would say in terms of the popularity of any candidate is I think we shouldn’t just look at a snapshot of where we are today but to look forward over a period of time. If we box ourselves in to saying that we should leave the European Union without a deal on the 31st October, I have a concern that either we will do that and find that there is significant economic disruption and the government would be I think very unpopular as a consequence or alternatively we end up letting down the public because for one reason or another that doesn’t happen and that would undermine trust in those politicians who made big promises that in fact we would leave without a deal by the 31st October. So I think we have to look forward a few months and see where we might be in the autumn and I worry that we can go down a trajectory that is all about leaving without a deal and we find ourselves in that very difficult situation.

NP: In the circumstances – I mean we have talked about this on a few occasions in the past and you haven’t been drawn but would you be able to serve in a Cabinet of someone who was advocating no deal as a serious option?

DAVID GAUKE: I wouldn’t be able to serve in a Cabinet that was, if you like, had as its objective leaving without a deal. I don’t think you can completely take it off the table because the European Union might refuse any kind of extension and we might find ourselves in that situation so I accept that we should prepare for it but if it was an objective in saying no deal is the right answer, I wouldn’t support that policy and I wouldn’t be able to serve in a cabinet that pursued that policy.

NP: Would you, as with Philip Hammond, he suggested the same, would you in those circumstances see yourself participating in a vote of no confidence in the leader?

DAVID GAUKE: No, I wouldn’t be voting in a no confidence motion in the House of Commons in a way that was going to lead to a Jeremy Corbyn government, I don't think that is the right approach but I do think there is a point about saying whether the House of Commons would support a strategy which is in favour of no deal, I think there is a question as to whether it would and with John Bercow as Speaker, whether there would be a means of frustrating it, which is why rather than focusing on no deal as perhaps some might want to do, we should try to focus on how we can try to break the impasse and I think there are a number of candidates that are doing that and I think that is sensible.

NP: Interesting though that you haven’t been swayed by Michael Gove showing a little bit of ankle in suggesting that he would be prepared to delay Brexit for a year in order to get a deal done.

DAVID GAUKE: Well I have a very high opinion of Michael and anyone who has sat round the Cabinet table in recent months and heard the way in which has addressed these issues with great honesty and great clarity, he obviously comes to it from the perspective of having led the Vote Leave campaign, so he is a committed Brexiteer so I’m very impressed by Michael but as I say, Rory Stewart will have my vote in the first round.

NP: Whilst we have you, Donald Trump is coming to the United Kingdom next week, why did it need to be a state visit?

DAVID GAUKE: Well look, I think it’s important that we have a good relationship with the United States, they are our most important security ally. Donald Trump as President, we don’t all have to agree with everything he says or does, the style or the substance, but it is important that we have a good relationship with the President of the United States. If we have a state visit, if that helps cement that good relationship, it’s very important for us it seems to me to ensure that the United States is properly committed to NATO for example and if that depends to a large extent on the nature of our relationship with the US and a state visit helps with that relationship with the US, then I think that’s what we should do.

NP: So you are suggesting that diplomatic efforts with the United States are based on the idea that Donald Trump might be swayed by dinner at the Queen’s house?

DAVID GAUKE: Well what I’m saying is if an event such as this adds strength to the United Kingdom’s relationship with the United States then that is something that we should do. It’s not unprecedented to have a state visit so I think that’s no bad thing to do.

NP: I just want to ask you one last question before we go on Brexit. Is it possible for anyone who has an option no deal, is it possible for them to unite the Conservative party?

DAVID GAUKE: Well I don’t want to draw red lines on this, there are sometimes too many red lines get drawn. There are a lot of candidates I think who want to unite the Conservative party but I think it’s really important that we are practical and pragmatic and I do worry that there are some who say let’s just bring this all to an end and no deal will bring it to an end. No deal doesn’t bring it to an end, it just means we have to sort out the next stages but having left the European Union in really quite difficult circumstances. I don't think that’s the right choice for the country.

NP: Mr Gauke, many thanks for joining us.