Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Rishi Sunak Conservative MP


SOPHY RIDGE: Before the break we heard some quite strong words from Nicola Sturgeon about Boris Johnson so it’s only fair to give the Johnson camp the right to reply and we’re joined by Rishi Sunak, the MP for Richmond, a key ally of Boris Johnson and tipped for a Cabinet job if he becomes Prime Minister. I just want to start with those comments by Nicola Sturgeon, she was responding to what the leader of the SNP in Westminster has said about Boris Johnson, that he is effectively racist. We can just see what Nicola Sturgeon said in that interview: “Boris Johnson has made overtly racist comments. You can criticise the burka without being deeply offensive. Some of the things he said about black people I wouldn’t even repeat because I don’t think it’s appropriate to do so.” What do you make of what Nicola Sturgeon said?

RISHI SUNAK: Well first of all I wouldn’t be sitting here supporting Boris if I thought he was racist, it’s something I care very deeply about and when you look at the context of that article about the burka, first of all an independent panel looked at it and they described it as in the round being respectful and tolerant and of course if you are going to take particular comments out of context, but the article was making a very liberal argument about the right of women to choose what they would like to wear at a time when other European countries – who Nicola Sturgeon is very fond of us being connected closer to – they were going round banning the burka and here was Boris making an argument that women shouldn’t be banned, they should be able to make that choice for themselves.

SR: She is also talking about some of the things he said about black people, I believe she is referring to a Telegraph column in 2002, quite a long time ago admittedly, where he was talking about Tony Blair, saying he is shortly off to the Congo, no doubt the AK47s will fall silent and the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smile.

RISHI SUNAK: Well I haven’t read that particular article but the broad point I would say is that Boris has very clearly apologised for any offence that he’s caused through any of the thousands and thousands of articles he’s written over a very long journalistic career but …

SR: But is he always going say anything to get a laugh, is that the problem?

RISHI SUNAK: No, no, I don't think that’s saying anything. This is someone who does have a particular way of communicating which does seem to work. He won two elections in a place which people thought Conservatives couldn’t win, he won a referendum campaign that people thought it was not possible to win and he is able to do those things because he has a way of engaging the public and because he speaks in a way that they understand, that’s direct, that gets through to them and although of course he is going to apologise for comments that he’s made, I don't think that it’s right that he should become this cookie cutter politician who doesn’t have that great connection with the public and engages and talks to them in a way that they resonate with clearly as we can see from his track record.

SR: There has been a lot of focus as well on a story that has dominated the papers over the last couple of days, something we have been speaking to some of our guests about, the police being called to the flat that Boris Johnson shares with his girlfriend.

RISHI SUNAK: I think the thing we do know as you said, the police were called and of course that���s something that people are going to be rightly interested in but then let’s just look at that. The police were called to an incident and what did they say? They said everybody was safe, everybody was well, there was no concerns that the officers had and there was no cause for any further action. Given that’s what the police have said and it is clearly a private incident, I wasn’t there, you weren’t there, I think we should just leave it at that.

SR: It is however, according to one poll today, having a bit of an impact though. You were talking about Boris Johnson’s record in London, let’s just have a quick look at a poll that the Mail on Sunday have published today, this is by Survation. They asked “Who would be the best Prime Minister” and in the days since that incident Jeremy Hunt has leapfrogged Boris Johnson 32% compared to 29%. Now crucially this is among voters, among members the poll still finds that Boris Johnson is more popular, but it matters doesn’t it what everyone thinks?

RISHI SUNAK: Of course it matters what everybody thinks because I think Boris Johnson could be a Prime Minister for the entirety of the UK and I think he’ll do a very good job of that for everybody. Look, polls are polls, people react to events by the day. What we’ve seen is that he has a track record of winning and he had a track record of winning even when the polls said at the beginning of the contest that he wasn’t going to. I mean in his first race in London I think the Conservatives were 17 points behind and he managed to pull off a victory, the referendum – I mean nobody thought Leave would be able to win and he led that referendum so I think when push comes to shove his track record speaks for itself and that’s because he is a fantastic campaigner and he has a great set of ideas about spreading educational opportunities to everybody, infrastructure investment to make sure that all parts of our country share in our prosperity – that’s important to me as a northern MP and people talk about that, they feel it and I think Boris connects with that and he will have a message for those people that will make them think yes, here’s someone who can deliver for us as he did in London and I want to back him.

SR: Now what has Boris Johnson told you about his plans to leave because there are some people who look at the range of opinion that he’s attracting in the Conservative party and think how on earth is he going to have a Brexit policy than can keep Matt Hancock happy in the one corner and Steve Baker happy in the other? What has he said to you?

RISHI SUNAK: Well first of all I don't think it’s a bad thing that he has attracted support from all wings of the party, I think that’s absolutely what you should be looking for in the next Prime Minister, that’s the job that they have to do and the fact that he has been able to do that is a good thing. I think he said the same thing to me as he said to everybody and I think this is where in contrast to some of the other candidates that have had slightly different positions over time …

SR: What has he said?

RISHI SUNAK: Well for absolute clarity he said the same thing, he said we will leave the European Union on the 31st October, that’s his express will and he will work very hard to deliver that …

SR: Is that a cast iron guarantee? That’s what I’m trying to get to with the question.

RISHI SUNAK: What he has said very clearly is he is prepared to walk away without a deal if that what it takes.

SR: But will he do it?

RISHI SUNAK: Yes, of course he will do it, he is so crystal clear that he will do it and it’s right that he does prepare for that but he has also said that’s not his preference, his preference is not to walk away without a deal, his preference is to renegotiate with our European friends and allies, find a constructive way to leave but it is absolutely right and responsible that we do prepare for no deal in order to maximise our hand at the negotiating table and make sure we are best prepared and he’ll do that with conviction and that’s what the British people deserve, someone fighting very hard for us in Brussels who are determined to deliver on the will of the referendum and get us out of the EU by October.

SR: There’s been a bit of consternation amongst some of your colleagues about comments that Boris Johnson made about renegotiating within the implementation period. Let me just show you quickly what David Lidington has said, “The implementation period is actually part of the Withdrawal Agreement, no deal exit equals no Withdrawal Agreement equals no implementation period.” He’s wrong there isn’t he?

RISHI SUNAK: Well there are a range of different ways one could leave. One is with the existing Withdrawal Agreement but this has not passed Parliament three times so we do really need a different way to leave. It could be this Withdrawal Agreement with changes to the backstop which is an obvious place to start …

SR: But the point is, you can’t really renegotiate within the implementation period if there’s no deal can you?

RISHI SUNAK: What you will be renegotiating during an implementation period, if that’s where we end up, is the exact form of the future relationship and that’s something that Boris has been very clear about. He wants to have a future relationship with the EU where of course they are our friends and allies but we must have control over our borders, our laws, our trading relationship and those are all the things the detail of which we can work out during an implementation period and Boris has been very clear he will deliver on that when we get to that point.

SR: Okay and just finally, you once said in an interview that you wanted to be a Jedi Knight when you grew up and obviously you might have to readjust your expectations slightly but what job would you like in a Boris Johnson cabinet?

RISHI SUNAK: That’s not a conversation that I’ve had with it, there no Minister for Star Wars that I’m aware of but if that job can be created I’d love to do it. Funnily enough I was actually listening at the Royal Albert Hall yesterday to a great Star Wars concert which was brilliant with my kids but no, that’s not a conversation I’ve had with him. One thing that I think we do know is that as he did as Mayor of London, he built a fantastic team around him, some of them are in Parliament today, some of his Deputy Mayors, colleagues of mine, have been on your show, Kit Malthouse, James Cleverly, they helped him get crime down and I’m sure he will put that team together again and deliver for everybody.

SR: Thank you very much for being on the programme today, Rishi Sunak there.