Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Sam Gyimah MP


NIALL PATERSON: There are already enough candidates for the Conservative party leadership to be able to make a football team of out them. The twelve – yes, twelve – candidates come out of the party spectrum, they’ve all said they want to deliver Brexit in one form or another. None of the Conservatives backing a second referendum have yet put themselves forward but could that be about to change? A bit of a strong hint there. We’re joined now by one of those Conservatives supporting a people’s vote, Sam Gyimah. Mr Gyimah, good to see you, so a straightforward question – do you want to be the next Conservative leader?

SAM GYIMAH: Well yes, I will be joining the contest to be the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister to broaden the race. As you mentioned, there is a wide range of candidates but there is a very narrow set of views on Brexit being discussed and over the last few weeks I have watched on discussing with colleagues with frustration that whilst there is a broad sweep of opinion in the country on how we move forward at this critical time, that is not being reflected in the contest at the moment.

NP: So to articulate the position that you are taking in all of this, we know you are an advocate for a people’s vote.

SAM GYIMAH: Well what you’ve got to remember is where we are is we face a very stark and unwelcome choice of either no deal or revoke by a second referendum possibly but what the candidates are offering is to offer no deal and a fudge on Theresa May’s deal which has [seen] her defeated. Now Parliament is deadlocked, we all know that. We want to move forward and we want to be able to bring the country together so that is why I think a final say on the Brexit deal is the way to achieve that and for the Conservative party, I think that what we need to be doing is to be putting the country first. What makes us successful is when we put the country first and we are pragmatic and I’ll be the only candidate in the race offering this option which is supported by the vast majority of people in the public, in order to take us forward.

NP: But let’s be honest about this and I say this with respect and with gratitude that you’ve come on the programme to announce your candidacy but the Conservatives are never going to elect a people’s vote campaigner are they?

SAM GYIMAH: Well as I said, we face a stark and unwelcome choice. We’ve already had two extensions of Article 50, we’ve lost our fourth Prime Minister on the European issue, we’ve had 36 ministerial resignations and I think as I go through my campaign and explain to people what the nature of the choice we face is, they will actually realise that if we want to govern in the interests of the country, this is an option that we have to consider seriously.

NP: You’ve been explicit about where you believe things have gone wrong, you’ve spoken about the level of expectation raised in the British public haven’t you?

SAM GYIMAH: Well as you know, I resigned my ministerial job, I didn’t want to be an ex-minister at this time of my career because when I looked at Theresa May’s deal, which by the way is the best deal on offer, I don't think there’s another deal out there – but the start reality about it is that we were giving up our voice, our vote and our veto in return for best endeavours which is why I resigned to oppose it. Now the danger of where we are now brings your question, which is if we go through a contest in which we don’t honestly and robustly debate the questions in front of us but fudge it, we will get to October, ask for another extension and that would stoke disillusion even further.

NP: But let’s be clear, whilst you may represent a strand of opinion in the general public at large, there is a question about whether anyone in the Conservative party will listen to you. 66% believe the UK should leave the European Union without a deal, which you would oppose; 84% oppose a second referendum when it’s [inaudible] and 80% oppose a second referendum with three options. Are you sure this is the party that you do want to lead?

SAM GYIMAH: Well I mean the Conservative party, when it’s at its election winning best is pragmatic and it’s sensible. Now when I say that we should have a referendum I would have a referendum in which there is no-deal on the ballot paper, that there is Theresa May’s deal and there is a remain option. Now this will mean that everybody has their option on the ballot paper. A referendum doesn’t automatically mean that the result of the 2016 referendum is overturned, the country could still stay loudly again that now we know the terms of departure and what is negotiable, that it still wants to leave. The fact that we’ve got to confront is how do we move forward from this impasse and at the moment, carrying on and doing more of the same when the maths hasn’t changed in the House of Commons, when we’ve lost the Prime Minister, is not exactly the best way to serve our country.

NP: But let’s be honest, you think Brexit is a mistake don’t you?

SAM GYIMAH: No, not at all, not at all. I was a Minister implementing Brexit but what we promised in our manifesto is that we promised that we would have a comprehensive free trade agreement that gave us essentially the exact same benefits as we had before …

NP: But if they …

SAM GYIMAH: … in front of us, let me finish that – but the British public, now that they know that still want to go ahead, as their servant we implement it but where we are is we have a deal that has no majority in Parliament so when people say they want to deliver Brexit, they just want to get it done, they make it sound like there is some magical Brexit that somehow Theresa May didn’t find. Now most of the candidates were in her Cabinet, they were part of the negotiations and this is where we’ve got to.

NP: So how would you vote in that three option referendum that you would like to see – Theresa May’s deal, leave with no deal or remain – how would you vote in that?

SAM GYIMAH: I would vote remain and my vote would be one out of the …

NP: So you do think that Brexit at least under …

SAM GYIMAH: But mine would be one out of millions of votes so that’s not the important thing and if I was Prime Minister I would actively campaign for that.

NP: But hasn’t the trouble with Theresa May always been that there have been those that have been able to wave around the Remain card at any point that she does something that they disagree with, she’s a Remainer and therefore everything that she did from that point on was tainted with that view.

SAM GYIMAH: I think what we should remember is, Leave or Remain we all care about our country, we all want the best for our country and the idea that the only people who can serve the country’s best interests at this critical time in our history depends on which box they ticked in 2016 I think is absurd. I care deeply about this country, I want the best for this country, I want the best for my children but the truth is, the current plan is not working and it’s not what we want, it’s not what we like, it’s that the current plan is not working and by the way, no deal would be an abject failure. In the referendum campaign people were promised a deal, in our manifesto people were promised a deal, to pursue no deal with all that it entails without the public having given us consent that that is what they want, I believe would be a failure.

NP: When you were last on Ridge on Sunday you said the following: “In many ways” – and this is a reference to …

SAM GYIMAH: I hope you’re not going to read some of my quotes back to me!

NP: This always happens but they are your words ultimately, “In many ways I am probably a step in modernisation too far for them. I think some of them in this particular group have Tory heads and UKIP hearts.” That step in modernisation too far that you refer to, that’s a comment referring to your ethnicity isn’t it?

SAM GYIMAH: No, not at all, actually one of the key strands of my campaign is going to be rediscovering Conservatism and the reason why I joined the Conservative party is because the Conservative party believes in hard work, it believes in aspiration and it believes in giving back – that’s what makes me a Conservative. I feel what Brexit has done has somehow overridden some of these principles that over centuries has made us the most successful political party in the world, not just in this country. Now when I said a step in modernisation too far I think it is very easy to assume that when you are talking about some of these ideas in the context of Brexit, that that is not really where the party is but I think what I’m offering is true Conservatism and true Conservatism that has been electorally successful because it’s always served the country well.

NP: It just strikes me that given the problems that you’ve had with your constituency association on a number of occasions, that actually a better party for you might well be the Liberal Democrats.

SAM GYIMAH: Well it’s interesting that you should say that, during the course of my political life I have been mistaken for a Labour MP, some would say now as you have said the Liberal Democrats but I’m a dyed in the wool Conservative. I think what that tells you is that I’m asset to the Conservative party because I can reach parts that maybe others can’t reach.

NP: Now you’re not going to tell me who you would vote for if you don’t make it past the first round but I suspect you might tell me who you wouldn’t vote for – Boris Johnson. I can’t see you throwing your support behind him at any point.

SAM GYIMAH: There is a wide range of candidates, we’ve never had this before and we don’t know who is going to make it to the final two and of course one of the reasons why I’ve entered the race and I quite like idea that you’ve set the expectations around my success as low as possible, if I don’t make it past the first round, thank you very much! But we will see when we come to it but over the next few weeks, along with my colleagues who support me, I’m going to be making the case for how we deliver for this country and one of the things I’m most concerned about in this is in a sense another way forward is to embrace Nigel Farage because Nigel Farage wants to break the system, he wants to break the Conservative party. We’ve seen him off before, that is what I want to do this time.

NP: But surely all of this, it isn’t just an attempt to secure a nice Cabinet post as the leading Remain candidate at this process?

SAM GYIMAH: I’m glad you’ve asked that question. As I said, I resigned my ministerial job, I sacrificed it for what I believe and I am not positioning for a Cabinet job. For example …

NP: Would you turn it down? For example, if Dominic Raab or Boris Johnson…

SAM GYIMAH: We don’t know who is going to be there but what I would say is I would find it very difficult to serve in a Conservative Cabinet that was pursuing a no deal Brexit.

NP: Sam Gyimah, good to see you, thank you for being my guest.

SAM GYIMAH: Thank you.