Sophy Rdge on Sunday Interview with Justine Greening


SOPHY RIDGE: Now we were just hearing about the suspension of 21 Conservative MPs after they voted for the legislation to delay Brexit, a move by the Prime Minister that divided opinion in his own party and the list of 21 included former chancellors, Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond, Winston Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames and the former Education Secretary Justine Greening, who is here with us in the studio. Thank you very much for joining us. First of all I am interested to get your reaction to the resignation of Amber Rudd. She mentioned the expulsion of the 21 MPs including yourself as part of the reason for her resigning not only from Cabinet but also the Conservative whip.

JUSTINE GREENING: Well I think for me the principal issue is that there isn’t really a negotiation going on with the EU to try and get a new kind of Brexit deal and from my perspective, having voted to see the Prime Minister get on a plane to Brussels, that’s not happened yet and my concerns have always been that there isn’t really a negotiation happening on Brexit now and therefore the main objective of government is to leave with no deal and I think certainly from my community that has been completely unacceptable and that’s why I voted for this bill his week which simply allows Parliament a binding vote on any deal were Boris to get one but also a binding vote on no deal and that’s how you run Britain, it’s a Parliamentary democracy and I think it’s incredibly important to protect that so I welcome that Amber has, even after we had the vote, chose then to support it.

SR: Talking there about trying to stop no deal, you could have done that by voting for a deal.

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JUSTINE GREENING: … last year actually and it was obvious it didn’t deliver on the referendum as far as leavers were concerned and for communities like mine which are overwhelmingly Remain, people just thought what’s the point, they are following all the rules, it is far smarter to be sat round a table setting them. So I think in reality it was clear that was a brick wall, the government chose to run into three times in spite of it being obvious to me that it wasn’t a viable strategy.

SR: Okay. In response to Amber Rudd’s resignation, if we can have a quick look at something your colleague David Gauke tweeted, a former Conservative like yourself. He said “Amber Rudd has been extraordinarily brave but her concerns about how the government is behaving reflect the views of many of my former colleagues. One way or another it is time for them to act.” Do you agree with David Gauke, is it time for more Conservative MPs to make their unhappiness known?

JUSTINE GREENING: I believe many this weekend will be trying to work out the right thing to do. I think the reality is, for me it is impossible to sand by and simply allow a government to inflict a no deal Brexit on Britain. For me it is the most profoundly un-Conservative policy I have ever seen. It destroys jobs, it harms our economy, it damages opportunity, it will damage social mobility and I found it hard to reconcile that with the Conservative party that has been a vehicle for social mobility and one of the reasons why I said I couldn’t run as a Conservative candidate on Tuesday this week is because I think the Conservative party is now fixated on Brexit, Brexit is its priority above everything else and that is simply not a priority for me when I compare it to the chance to work on social mobility and equality of opportunity. I think that’s the real issue facing Britain and when I look at communities like the one I grew up in in Rotherham, I would much rather be working on the ground trying to practically make a difference and I think the change that people are making [inaudible] is actually access to opportunity. I think that Brexit takes them further away from the solutions that I believe they deserve.

SR: You mentioned growing up in Rotherham, you were the first Education Secretary to be educated at a comprehensive school and …

JUSTINE GREENING: Yes, which is a shocking indictment on Britain actually that that was the case.

SR: If you were that young girl in Rotherham would you still be attracted to the Conservative party today?

JUSTINE GREENING: I think I’d see it as a part that was about Brexit not about equality of opportunity and what I’ve decided is we can’t allow this gridlock in Westminster to stop change from happening on the ground in communities that want it and that’s what I’m going to put my time into.

SR: What some people would say is actually Brexit is the dividing line of the day, Boris Johnson has a clear position on Brexit, of course it’s right that people who don’t support that position should not be in the Conservative party.

JUSTINE GREENING: Well from my perspective I’ve had the whip withdrawn this week but I haven’t really followed the whip for some time so I felt it was somewhat of a token gesture and also self-defeating from the government but I do think that the Conservative party will not be successful unless it is able to reach out to a broad spectrum of the British population and reach out to very different communities including my own in Putney and I think to effectively turn it back on a community like my own is frankly totally unacceptable and I have always been very clear, my job is to represent Putney in Parliament. I am Putney’s voice in Parliament and I will fulfil that role come what may.

SR: So with that in mind will you be voting for an election?

JUSTINE GREENING: Well not if the election is simply designed to enable the government to dissolve Parliament and time out the …

SR: So tomorrow you are going to be voting again an election?

JUSTINE GREENING: Yes, because I think it’s not an election that is designed to do anything other than take away choices from the British people. I believe if the British people want to see a no deal departure from the EU they are the ones that should vote for it, it shouldn’t be Boris Johnson just simply timing out the clock even though people’s representatives in Parliament are very clearly saying that that is not something their communities want.

SR: We know that you are standing down at the next election as a Conservative MP, who are you going to be voting for?

JUSTINE GREENING: [Laughs] Well I think like many people in my community I will see what the candidates are saying about how they want to be representatives, what their views on issues are and I have to say the response from my local community has been fantastic and the support I’ve had over the past three days has been amazing. People have stopped me in the street to say that they feel I am doing my job as an MP.

SR: So you are not sure if you are going to vote Conservative at the next election then? You might vote for someone else?

JUSTINE GREENING: I remain a member of the Conservative party but I think at the end of the day I am like every voter, I will try and work through what I feel the right thing is for my community and my country and then pass my vote accordingly and I really would urge the Conservative party to consider how it can make sure it continues to reach out to communities like my own and I think we are [inaudible] in this election and I am worried that Britain faces a [inaudible] choice, either a no deal Boris Johnson government or a hard left Marxist Corbyn government and I don't think that’s the kind of choice that the British people deserve, I think they deserve something much, much better than that and I hope in the end Britain will work its way through this Brexit gridlock and then we’ll have to at some point get on to what I feel is the big issue facing Britain which inequality of opportunity. All I can say is I don’t plan to lead frontline politics, I plan to put my time into fixing what I think the real challenge is to Britain which is inequality of opportunity and that whenever Britain is able to get on to that real debate, I will be at the front of that debate leading the charge and hopefully making a difference on the ground in the meantime.

SR: Just finally I am keen to know what happened when the news was broken that you would be stripped of the Conservative whip, who spoke to you and how did they get in touch?

JUSTINE GREENING: Well I was on my way home on the District Line and I had a call from the Chief Whip. I obviously wasn’t able to take it on the Tube so he simply left a voicemail.

SR: And what did he say?

JUSTINE GREENING: He just informed me that the whip was being withdrawn. I think it might have been polite after 14 years to try to call me back perhaps a second time but the bottom line, Sophy, is I think we know where we are and I am very clear what my role is and my role is to represent my community in Parliament and that’s what I did that day.

SR: Did you have any conversations after that, did Boris Johnson try to get in touch with you?


SR: Dominic Cummings?


SR: Nobody else called you back.


SR: Just a voicemail?

JUSTINE GREENING: Just a voicemail.

SR: And how did that make you feel?

JUSTINE GREENING: Well look, I think it says an awful lot more I guess about the state of the Conservative party than it does about me and I think in a way I have served my community and my country for 14 years and I think it’s a shame that the whip has been withdrawn for doing the simple thing of representing my community in Parliament. I’m not in control of how the Conservative leadership takes its decisions, I think it was a self-defeating move to withdraw the whip and I think it will backfire but ultimately those are questions for Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson more than they are for me.

SR: Okay, Justine Greening, thank you very much for coming on the programme.