Sunday with Niall Paterson Interview with Andy McDonald Shadow Transport Secretary
ANY QUOTES USED MUST BE ATTRIBUTED TO SUNDAY WITH NIALL PATERSON, SKY NEWS
NIALL PATERSON: Labour
launched their local election campaign this week but once again the news from
Mr Corbyn’s side of the chamber has been dominated by the loss of another
member of his frontbench team and more allegations of anti-Semitism.
Joining me now from Middlesbrough is the
Shadow Transport Secretary, Andrew McDonald.
Mr McDonald, good to see you, a very good morning.
ANDY McDONALD: Good morning.
NP: Shall we start with
perhaps what is the biggest live issue for the Labour party at the moment, in
my reckoning it’s not the departure of Owen Smith – anti-Semitism.
That report by Shami Chakrabarti, who was of
course awarded peerage for her efforts, do you think it was somewhat hasty in
ANDY McDONALD: No, I don’t.I think we’ve had a very frank and thorough
look at the issues of anti-Semitism and we’re reaffirmed our absolute abhorrence
of that issue in all of its manifestations and I think we’re dealing with the issues
in the correct way and I know that this issue is continually in the headlines
and I think we’ve got to take it head-on.
NP: But that mural, which Jeremy
Corbyn appeared to support, I won’t go into the details myself, you can take a
look at it but it takes the form of one of the more obvious and heartfelt
stereotypes of the Jewish people.
could anyone look at it, even briefly, and not realise just how anti-Semitic it
ANDY McDONALD: Well look,
Jeremy has made it abundantly clear that, you know, it is an anti-Semitic
portrait or mural or whatever it is and it’s quite right that it should be
removed and he didn’t look at it properly at the time and he’s expressed regret
about that but I’d just say that Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t got an anti-Semitic bone
in his body.
His entire history is about
campaigning for human rights, to oppose discrimination in whatever form it
takes and if you just look back at the EDMs, the Early Day Motions, over his
time in parliament, he has been at the forefront of condemning anti-terrorism,
speaking out against attacks against Jewish communities across Europe, in
Istanbul, in Paris and everywhere else so I think this is to misinterpret the
intentions of a really good and decent man who has actually stood for these
issues all of his life.
NP: But it is only now that
he identified it as anti-Semitic, he didn’t do it a couple of years ago when
the artwork was first presented to him and actually in his comment, under what
both of us and Jeremy Corbyn concedes is a hugely offensive “artwork”, in
inverted commas, who mentions the Rockefeller Centre, Rockefeller himself of
course, very closely linked to Rothschild, I mean the anti-Semites favourite
I’m sorry, but for anyone who
has spent any amount of time around the Israel/Palestine issue, who has studied
and condemned the Holocaust as Jeremy Corbyn has done, it is almost impossible
to believe that Jeremy Corbyn did not see it for what it is.
ANDY McDONALD: No, look,
Jeremy is an honest and decent man and he has acknowledged that he didn’t look
at it properly and he does recognise that it abhorrent, it is anti-Semitic and
it’s right that it should no longer exist but he was speaking in the context of
freedom of expression and murals in another context and I think there has been
that cross-referencing and that’s why we’re having this discussion today but be
in no doubt whatsoever that Jeremy is absolutely and utterly focused on driving
out anti-Semitism wherever it will appear and any other forms of discrimination.
It’s absolutely beyond doubt, that’s what the
man is about.
NP: You mentioned his
support for freedom of expression, I mean it wasn’t desperately obvious when
that Dutch newspaper published that cartoon of Mohammed.
The point is pretty simple isn’t it, I mean
he says that he actually did look at it, just that he didn’t look closely
I mean should someone who didn’t
immediately recognise, within seconds, within moments in fact, who didn’t
immediately recognise that this was anti-Semitic, should they be leader of a
political party, let alone Her Majesty’s Opposition?
ANDY McDONALD: Niall, I think
if everybody went through their life and said I’m never going to make an error
or misjudge something, visually or otherwise, then there would be very few people
in politics or anywhere else for that matter.
He’s accepted that he didn’t look at it properly, it is anti-Semitic and
it should be removed.
He couldn’t be
clearer about it but for us to say that nobody could ever get such a thing
wrong or make an error in that way is just quite frankly fanciful.
We all do, you and I do on a daily basis and
we say sorry, I did get that wrong and I absolutely abhor this representation,
it’s ugly and vile and it’s not to be tolerated.
NP: On an hourly basis in
my case but thankfully I’m not Leader of the Opposition.
If that’s the case, why has he not apologised?He’s made an expression of regret, a mealy
mouthed one at that, why has he not just come out and said ‘Do you know what, I’m
really sorry about this?’
ANDY McDONALD:He has made that expression of regret, that’s very,
NP: Not an apology though,
Mr McDonald, you know that.
ANDY McDONALD: Well look,
he’s made his position crystal clear, it was an error, he did see that in a
glance and he’s made that comment but it’s a horrible image and it’s right that
it be removed and he does regret not having taken that action in the first
instance but as I say, none of us get things 100% right all of the time and this
is perfectly a proper response and the right response at this juncture to put
it beyond any doubt that this is just totally and utterly unacceptable as
imagery and it should always be decried and deemed as unacceptable in the way
that Jeremy has so described.
NP: As you say, everyone
makes mistakes but the fact is this incident doesn’t take place in a vacuum,
there have been in some people’s eyes a pattern of behaviour on the part of Mr
There remains this morning, well
as of the last time I looked, around about seven o’clock this morning, a tweet
of support from Jeremy Corbyn’s account for Sheikh Raed Salah who used the
blood libel outside the Al-Aksa Mosque, who referred tangentially to Jews as
germs and monkeys. Now, even if he is no anti-Semite, he does little to stop
others from characterising himself as such, in fact sometimes he seems to
I mean why on earth would he
ANDY McDONALD: No, I think
that’s grossly, grossly unfair, he does nothing of the sort and I think what we
should do, I think we should publish the Early Day Motions that Jeremy has initiated
since 1990 and onwards that I’ve been able to locate that show beyond any doubt
where the man stands on such issues and I think this is, it’s really
unfortunate that we’re having this debate.
We are trying obviously to deal with this particular issue head on but
it’s interesting that nobody is drawing attention to his proud history of
standing up against anti-Semitism for all of these decades and that is the measure
of the man and we should look at this fairly.
In the interests of balance, Niall, I think those issues should be put
before the public and let them make their own mind up because I know the man, I’ve
worked with him closely for the last several years and he’s a man of good
intent and decent standards and this has been his entire life and I think to
traduce him in this way is totally and utterly wrong.
NP: As you are saying, you
believe there isn’t anti-Semitic sentiment within the party, I mean is there
anti-Israeli sentiment there?
Do you think
Israel is an apartheid state?
what your advisor Carl Hanson said in a tweet earlier.
ANDY McDONALD: Well, as a
Member of Parliament I had the privilege with the Holocaust Educational Trust
to go over to Auschwitz and just take in the enormity of that atrocity and that
has absolutely shaped and formed my thinking and to see what an abomination
At the same time I’ve also
travelled to the West Bank and seen what life is like on a daily basis for …
NP: I’m asking about Carl
Hanson, Mr McDonald.
ANDY McDONALD: Well I’m
answering your question about the attitudes of the Israeli government towards
the people in the land that they occupy and they treat them very, very differently.
We’ve just seen a young person who was shot
dead by an Israeli soldier at point blank range and he received a sentence of
nine months’ imprisonment. The same family who protested against that and a
young teenage girl who slapped an Israeli soldier in anger received a sentence
of nine months.
I’ve been to the military
courts where young boys are treated by a military system of law as against a
civil system of law, now there are two different systems depending on whether
you are Palestinian or whether you are a settler so I’ve seen it at first hand
and I think we have got to recognise that the Israeli government treat people entirely
different depending on who they are in their own land and that’s the context of
Because we quite
rightly hold out and make the case in the most strenuous cases to oppose
anti-Semitism, that cannot mean we are beyond criticising the Israeli government
as it currently is for the actions it takes against people in Palestine, that’s
the important point.
NP: Indeed.Owen Smith, I wonder if we can just discuss
his position within the party at the moment.
He expressed a desire, very, very publicly of course, but he expressed a
desire for a second vote on Brexit.
a view shared, according to the polls, by a majority of the Labour party
membership, do you think it was right for him to be sacked?
ANDY McDONALD: Well look, I
campaigned vociferously to remain in the European Union, that’s how I voted and
I was hugely disappointed at the outcome but we’ve got the decision and we’ve
got to work collectively within the Labour party to try to heal the
I know lots of people have
called for a second referendum, I seem to remember Nigel Farage saying we
should have a second one if it was very narrow, he seems to have gone quiet on
that over the subsequent months but we are in this position and I just ask people
to think through, where would that get us if we were to go down the path of
that second referendum at this stage?
about bringing the nation together.
Look, I hold Owen in the highest possible regard, he knows that.He’s a man of immense talent and he’s done a
superb job as our Shadow Northern Ireland spokesperson but we do have to work
collectively and this is the issue here.
It’s not just about this particular issue, I think Owen has made it
clear he is not prepared to abide by that collective responsibility principle
and that’s fine, that’s his prerogative but a Shadow Cabinet must operate as
singularly as it possibly can.
NP: We have of course heard
today from Kier Starmer, he’s seeking that binding vote in the Commons to
ensure that there will be no cameras, no infrastructure, no customs checks on
the Northern Ireland border.
what he is imagining – and one presumes that Mr Smith had a role in that as
well – that there would be no checks along that border between the Republic and
Northern Ireland, is that correct?
ANDY McDONALD: I don't know
what the conversation was between Kier and Owen about that but I entirely
endorse what Kier has set out, that’s got to be the right response.
In fairness to Owen, he’s made it abundantly clear
that we have got to preserve the Good Friday Agreement, this is precious and
critical and Kier’s response in setting out the parameters for goods travelling
freely and people similarly across the island of Ireland is exactly the right
We cannot do anything that
will put up any hard infrastructure that would interfere with that principle
and put at risk the precious commodity of peace that was so hard won over many,
many decades so I think that’s exactly the right response from Kier.
NP: But didn’t you in your
role as Shadow Transport Secretary pillory Chris Grayling for proposing
Lack of checks to avoid
traffic jams, you said the government said leaving the EU is about regaining
control of our borders but the Transport Secretary’s plan would achieve the
They are not entirely
parallel situations but there is something similar about them, is there not?
ANDY McDONALD: No, they are
entirely and utterly different.
of Ireland has its own unique dynamics, it’s completely different and distinct
and we’ve got to make special provision for the island of Ireland in a way that
I’ve just discussed.
It’s a completely
different issue if we’re leaving the European Union for goods and traffic to
simply move without any border checks whatsoever.
I don't know where that happens anywhere else
in the world, where you’ve got a trading bloc or one entity to another where
goods would just simply pass through unchecked, that just doesn’t happen.
NP: Mr McDonald, it looks
like a lovely day where you are, so get out and enjoy it.
Thanks very much for joining us.