Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Justine Greening Conservative MP


SOPHY RIDGE: Well there is no shortage of Brexiteers in the Conservative party leadership contest so might there be someone from the more Remain wing of the party in the race? Joining us now is the former Education Secretary, Justine Greening.


SR: So, first question, are you going to run?

JUSTINE GREENING: No, I think this is a beauty parade for Brexiteers so I’m not going to be in it.

SR: Is that the reason why, that you just don’t think there’s effectively any chance that you’d win?

JUSTINE GREENING: I think this should and could have been a leadership contest that was about hard choices for the Conservative party – how are we going to resolve Brexit, how are we going to make sure we reach out to a new generation of Conservative voters who are currently switched off this party. Instead it is just going to be a beauty parade of hard Brexiteers, I don't think we’re going to be talking about the hard choices we need to make and because of that, I’m not going to be in it.

SR: At the same time though, can you really complain about what the race is about if you are not willing to go there and make your arguments?

JUSTINE GREENING: I think you just have to face the reality of where the party’s at at the moment. I don't know whether … I’ve not won the case on a second referendum as a resolution yet and there may be a time when we do realise that that’s the right route through but I’m not into pointless exercises and for me actually this is a much more positive choice about continuing the social mobility pledge campaign or the work that I’m doing on the ground with businesses, working in schools, helping to create more opportunities for young people and I just genuinely feel that my time is better spent on that and it’s more productive. Change is actually happening outside of Parliament because it’s so gridlocked on Brexit so for me, I’d rather positively and actively stay working on that, on those issues and making a difference on the ground, than be part of a narrow discussion in a narrow Conservative party that is really around what version of hard Brexit to do, which I think anyway is a bad idea.

SR: How do you think voters will judge the campaign that we’re seeing now?

JUSTINE GREENING: Well I think what they should be doing is talking to people out in the country and instead we’re about to spend several weeks having a discussion with ourselves at a moment when the country is in crisis. Now what I want to hear from those people who set their face against a second referendum as a way of resolving Brexit is what’s their plan?

SR: Well a lot of them are saying they want to leave with no deal at the end of October.

JUSTINE GREENING: That is not going to get through Parliament. The soft Brexit deal the Prime Minister proposed doesn’t get through Parliament. None of them … all of them need to set out with detail how they are going to do a workable deliverable route forward on Brexit, not just what they want but how are they going to implement it? Then they have not only the opportunity but I think the duty to explain to the British people as well as the Conservative party members, what their solutions are on Brexit and how they are actually going to find a valuable route through because in my judgement Parliament is gridlocked and it’s going to stay gridlocked so we’ll have to have a referendum because it’s only the people who can now break that gridlock.

SR: You have written a piece in the Observer today and you say you see the Conservative party engaging in a debate with itself about what type of electoral cyanide to take, what do you mean by that? It sounds pretty grim.

JUSTINE GREENING: Well whilst we are failing to find a route forward on Brexit, all the other issues that people around the country actually want solved like improving social mobility, housing, social care, the environment, seem to be getting set on one side and that entire political bandwidth of Parliament and government is on Brexit. We’ve seen that over the last two or three years, we’ve not been doing other stuff than Brexit so until we have a route through, we won’t be able to break that log jam and what I’m saying to the candidates is tell us what the route is. I recognise that people are not yet convinced that a second referendum is the way to break the log jam but I want to hear what their alternative is because so far I haven’t seen it.

SR: We had Damian Green on a bit earlier in the programme and he said that he thinks the future of the Conservative party is at stake here, is that what you think?

JUSTINE GREENING: Well I think if we keep picking, making wrong choices, failing to make decisions about tough choices, failing to see that we are not even the most compelling party on Brexit for voters who want Brexit, that’s now the Brexit Party and I think you’ll see that probably in the European Union election results tomorrow, whilst at the same time we’re not reaching out to young people, we’re not willing to listen to communities like my own, full of young people, who are saying that they want a say on Brexit and actually they see Brexit as the thing that is holding up change happening in Britain and for me, whilst this debate myopically goes on in the Conservative party, I’d much rather put my time into actively, positively, constructively working on the ground to genuinely get more opportunities to more young people and I think the days of thinking anyway that government fixes everything in this country, I think that’s old politics. I think change happens outside of Parliament now and that’s where I am going to put my time.

SR: Who are you going to back?

JUSTINE GREENING: Well I want to see all the candidates set out their stalls so it is impossible to say.

SR: [inaudible] backing?

JUSTINE GREENING: Not yet, no. I mean obviously I’ll genuinely look at what they all have to say but I want to see some details and viable serious proper plans for Britain.

SR: We have already heard from several of the contenders – Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey – that they are prepared to take the UK out of EU without a deal at the end of October. If that became Conservative government policy, would you vote against the government in a confidence motion?

JUSTINE GREENING: No, I think Parliament will stop government doing that.

SR: But how?

JUSTINE GREENING: And again it is simply not a viable strategy. I think Parliament has now voted against no deal several times, it is clear that communities for the most part do not want to leave the European Union with no deal.

SR: But to stop no deal you might have to be prepared to bring down the government, would you be prepared to do that?

JUSTINE GREENING: I think the danger is that a government with an unbridled strategy on Brexit is destabilising itself and this is why the sooner I think that MPs in Parliament, that members of the Conservative Party recognise that that’s what’s at stake, to not finding a viable route through Brexit and the choice is going to be quite simple I think. Maybe you’re right, either we end up with a general election which Jeremy Corbyn would like to win – I don't think he’ll win it with a majority, he’s likely to have a coalition partner who is likely to demand some kind of a second referendum or they can choose to break the Brexit deadlock to actually giving people a vote but on the topic itself which is a second referendum on Brexit. In the end we are going to have to bite the bullet but for the moment it seems to me that the parties are avoiding those tough choices and that’s why the leadership campaign, I’m not going to be part of it.

SR: While I’ve got you here, I’m keen to ask you about school funding. Indeed looking at this on the programme today – and you of course are a former Education Secretary – have schools got enough money?

JUSTINE GREENING: I think they do need more money. I was the last Education Secretary to put more money into the system, 1.3 billion, but key to this frankly is less the DfE and more the Treasury. When you do a package on education and schools you should be going to the Treasury for a comment on whether they’re planning to allow the DfE to have more investment to pump into schools. Fundamentally though, you need a strategy that isn’t just about the money, that’s how you finance it: the strategy should be, as Michael Wilshaw talked about, is lifting up schools in those parts of the country where schools performance hasn’t been as good, really working to make sure that those children who are as talented as children growing up in the country with better schools, that they get that best start as well in our education system.

SR: But is it education that could end up giving Jeremy Corbyn the key to Number Ten do you think?

JUSTINE GREENING: Well there is no doubt that our unwillingness to tackle school funding and the concerns parents had on it in the last election did cost us votes.

SR: Okay, Justine Greening, thank you very much for being on the programme this morning and for being so open about your plans.