Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Kit Malthouse MP


NIALL PATERSON: A little earlier we heard Sam Gyimah say he was entering the race to become Conservative leader. Somebody already in that race is Kit Malthouse, the Housing Minister, and he joins me now. Good morning Mr Malthouse, thanks for being with us. So, what do you think of Sam Gyimah entering the race?

KIT MALTHOUSE: Well it’s obviously creating quite a crowded field, it certainly took us by surprise this morning but you know, it’s part of what needs to be a big conversation I guess in the Conservative party about the type of leadership that they want and the reason I’m standing is because I think we need a different type of leadership at this time that’s about more than shouting at the other side and bossing everybody about. We have to carefully put together the governing party into a majority that will deliver a Brexit deal which is what I did back in January when what became known as the Malthouse Compromise emerged and produced a majority in the House of Commons and so looking for a different way of leading the party that has, as I say, carefully puts together the different wings of the party in an agreement that can then be presented to the EU as a way forward I think is critical for us now.

NP: Is there any evidence that anyone else agrees with you that they want to have a different style of leadership in the Conservative party? With respect, no one is talking about you as the next Prime Minister.

KIT MALTHOUSE: Well I’ve got a number of supporters who have declared already and hopefully over the next few weeks I will persuade people that’s the case. I mean one of the things we have to get away from I think is a kind of bifurcated debate where the competition itself becomes a problem after the event so that to put the thing back together again and one of the problems that we’ve had during the whole Brexit debate has been this sort of binary move into silos. If we are going to find some sort of resolution before the 31st October we have to bring everybody out of those silos, put them in a room together, find some way to navigate towards an agreement that everybody can focus on to get us over the line for Brexit. As I say, we managed to do that back in January, people as far apart as Nicky Morgan and Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker came into a room together, sat down together over a big bowl of chocolate to get a deal hammered out and I think, as I say, it takes a different kind of leadership to make that happen.

NP: The greatest achievement of the Malthouse Compromise is again, with respect, perhaps more in the compromise element rather than the Malthouse part of it. As you say, political opponents did put aside their differences, it’s just unfortunate that they did so for a plan described by the European Union variously as bonkers and just nonsense.

KIT MALTHOUSE: Yes, so when the compromise came out it was at a particular time I think when the EU was very fixated on getting that Withdrawal Agreement through as was the government and so the contemplation of anything different was naturally going to be dismissed because they wanted what they wanted. Now the dynamic has changed since and what we know now is that the Withdrawal Agreement as currently drafted will not pass the House of Commons. We know that the backstop within it makes that a cert, it will not go through and so we have a duty to find a different kind of agreement so what I would do as Prime Minister is within as short a space as possible, is present a new type of agreement, a new agreement that we know would pass the House of Commons and say to the EU this is the deal that we want. We’re not choosing no deal, but this is the deal that we want and we can get a majority and frankly you have a duty, as we have a duty, to respect your structures and democracy, you have a duty to respect ours and that means that coming together as a group of great democracies we have to find a way through. Critical to that will be of course dealing with the situation in Ireland – I was in Northern Ireland on Friday talking to groups there constructively about how we might try and find a way through for their legitimate concerns, the complexity of that particular situation so a constructive leadership which puts together a governing majority I think would be crucial at this time

NP: Just to examine your strategy, I mean the last plan that you came up with involved technology that doesn’t exist yet. I’m still waiting for a hover board …

KIT MALTHOUSE: That’s not correct.

NP: You are talking about the European Union, about coming up with something fresh. To do so you will need to compromise, you will need to give ground to the European Union, when is that going to happen?

KIT MALTHOUSE: Well first of all it is a common misconception, this technological thing. I know it took off in the press but in truth what the groups around alternative arrangements have pointed out repeatedly is that it relies on existing systems and technology, checks away from the border, trusted trader, there is lots of complexity there but it is all existing stuff.

NP: And there is nowhere in the world where there aren’t actually checks on the border itself.

KIT MALTHOUSE: Critical of course in the second set of negotiations that took place, both the EU and the UK government committed to this idea of alternative arrangements and there is significant work going on. In fact Mr Katainen who is Vice President of the Commission gave a press conference back in April where he said they are specifically working on a new system for checks at the border in Northern Ireland to avoid a visible border so there is work going on and there is just a question of when that happens not if.

NP: So where is the compromise?

KIT MALTHOUSE: Well the compromise is, as I say, we will put forward an agreement that we know will garner support in the House of Commons. Now it’s possible to be some negotiation around that, within that we will obviously have to have some kind of an option of a transition agreement but where we want to find agreement with the EU is because both sides want to try and avoid no deal and we have to reverse the dynamic of the negotiation so that we put it back on to the EU that if they won’t take a deal which is eminently reasonable, which has consent through democratic processes in the UK, then they are effectively pointing the way to no deal for us and for them and that is something that is profoundly to be avoided.

NP: So you think the suggestion from Michael Gove’s camp this morning that there could be a delay to Brexit of as much as a year perhaps even longer than that, to get a deal done, you think that’s a good idea?

KIT MALTHOUSE: No, I don’t. I haven’t voted to support any kind of extension to the process. Now I think we could see a short technical extension if we needed it, if a principle had been agreed, worth the wait for an agreement that was in place but I think we have to be honest with ourselves that if we get to the 31st October without an agreement in place, then there are no good choices available to a Prime Minister at that point and we will be on a hair trigger for a general election which could be devastating for the country and catapult into a chaotic mix of who knows what. So we need to get a deal through and the only way I think we can do that is by presenting something which fundamentally has the consent of the British Parliament first and that means, as I say, a new kind of leadership that puts that deal together.

NP: You are Housing Minister, there is something of a crisis in housing at the moment, steps are being taken, I mean don’t you have better things to do?

KIT MALTHOUSE: Well I certainly am spending a lot of my time on housing, that’s for sure. We did 222,000 new houses last year, the numbers for next year are looking good and housing forms a critical part of my three strand programme, once we’re [free] Brexit of job, house, school, a new social contract, that these are the building blocks of a brilliant life. That we want fantastic well-funded schools, secure homes for everybody and a stable job that people can rely on, that you give those three things to most people and they will fly. So it is central and the experience I have had in housing over the last few months as Housing Minister is critical to making sure we hit that big number of 300,000 homes by the mid-2020s.

NP: Kit Malthouse, many thanks for joining us here in the studio.