Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Business Secretary

Sunday 16 December 2018


SOPHY RIDGE: Well pressure is growing on the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to trigger a confidence vote in the government. In fact on this show two weeks’ ago the Shadow Brexit Secretary told us that if Theresa May failed to get her Brexit vote through parliament it would be inevitable. So joining us now is the Shadow Business Secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, thank you for being with us this morning.


SR: It’s been a pretty extraordinary week for the Prime Minister, what I’m trying to get my head round is why haven’t Labour called a confidence vote in her?

REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well we’ve been assessing on a daily basis the time at which we would secure a successful outcome on a vote of no confidence because what we want to achieve is an outcome rather than just a little bit of parliamentary drama. Now what we’ve seen over the last week or so has been an absolute shambles. We were supposed to have a vote on the Prime Minister’s deal last week, it was pulled at the eleventh hour because she knew that she didn’t have the support within Parliament. That said, she had known for over two weeks that she didn’t have support within Parliament for that deal and rather than try to renegotiate or reach out to Members across the House as to what steps could be taken next to make that a deal around which there could be a Parliamentary consensus, she dug her heels in and left it right up until the eleventh hour before she took action. Now the problem that we’ve got within Parliament is because it didn’t get discussed within Parliament, Theresa May was in the dark essentially as to what the different problems and concerns that Parliamentarians had about the deal so she went off to the European Union to seemingly seek assurances but she wasn’t entirely sure what she was seeking assurances on. She knew that the backstop was a problem but she hadn’t even entertained any of the other issues that many of us across the House have had with the deal – the fact that it doesn’t provide a strong direction in terms of our continuing single market relationship; the fact that it didn’t deal with security issues; the fact that it really didn’t keep up with European Union standards on consumer rights, protections and environmental standards for example. So we really are in quite a precarious position and what we’re doing from the Labour party perspective is pushing the Prime Minister to bring that deal to Parliament next week so that we can have that discussion.

SR: At the beginning of your answer you said that you didn’t want to have a confidence vote in the government until you were sure what the outcome would be but you don’t just get one shot at it, you can have a go and then have another go after Christmas for example if it doesn’t work out. So I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t seize the momentum that your position has at the minute against Theresa May and get on with it. If you were being cynical you might suggest that actually Labour doesn’t really want to take over the Brexit negotiations because it is far more easy to criticise from the comfort of opposition.

REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: I don't think it would be sensible or pragmatic to hold a vote of no confidence every single day within Parliament knowing we were going to lose that vote of no confidence, I think there’s a lot more that needs to be done within Parliament. The government has taken its eye off the ball on domestic policies, for example we were supposed to have the NHS 10 year plan and we’ve heard very little; we were supposed to have the response to the pay review on employment rights and practices and we’ve heard nothing about that. There are various different domestic policies, matters that need to be dealt with urgently and we don’t want to take up parliamentary time unnecessarily but what we are doing, as I say, is speaking to various parties across the House and assessing the time at which there would be a successful outcome on a vote of no confidence but what we want to see straight away this week is a debate on Theresa May’s deal and the opportunity for Members across the House to put forward their concerns so that we can reach a consensus because I believe there is a deal that Parliament can coalesce around. I believe that the Labour party has set out its negotiating principles – a strong customs union deal with the right for Britain to have a say in future trade deals; a strong single market deal; a floor under existing rights and protections and environmental standards and workers’ rights but not only that, a guarantee that we will go beyond the minimum floor that the European Union has set. I think there would be support in Parliament for that but we’re not being given the opportunity to put those options on the table at this time.

SR: One thing that many believed there would be support in Parliament for is a second referendum. I know that Labour have conflicting opinions about whether that’s the best way forward, what do you personally think? Would you like to see a second referendum?

REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well Labour policy is not conflicting, we have been very clear that we want to secure a deal that puts our economy and our communities first. In Theresa May’s deal …

SR: What’s your view?

REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well I’ll just set out what the Labour party’s position is first. So in terms of our party’s position, we had a fantastic discussion about this at conference and we set out that if Theresa May couldn’t pass her deal within Parliament, she refused to renegotiate, she refused to call a general election then all options would be on the table to avoid a no-deal situation and that would include a public vote as well but that’s not putting any particular hierarchy, we would discuss that in line with any other options that are on the table at that time. In terms of my own personal position, I think we need to respect the referendum. As I say, I think that there is a deal that can be struck within Parliament that brings everybody together, that respects the views and wishes of communities whether they voted Leave or Remain and I think as MPs across the House, we have to do everything within our power to secure that. Now in an extreme situation, if that is not possible, I share the position that our party has set out that we have to keep all options on the table and that we wouldn’t rule out a people’s vote at some point.

SR: You must have looked at some of these polling numbers, I know your constituency is pretty divided when it comes to Brexit – do you think that having a second referendum as party policy would help or hinder Labour’s chances at a general election?

REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well it’s not about whether it would help or hinder the Labour party, this is what is doing the right thing essentially and we had a referendum, people spoke quite vociferously and passionately about Leave and Remain and we’ve got to respect those views and concerns. As Parliamentarians we have got to do everything within our power to secure a deal that doesn’t leave us in a worse economic position and also respects the result of that referendum. Now in the event we can’t secure that, we have to examine other options but I don't think we’re at that point yet. We’ve seen a complete shambles in the way the government has dealt with negotiations over the last two years, red lines that they’ve set out that the European Union think are quite simply preposterous. Even Theresa May went to Europe this week stating that she wanted help and she wanted to seek assurances but I think, as I said earlier, they weren’t even sure what she was seeking assurances on. So we really do need to see more work and collaboration across Parliament and I really do worry that if we don’t see that deal being discussed within Parliament this week and being voted upon, then we really are voting against the clock.

SR: You were talking there about Theresa May’s reception in Brussels, I’m interested to get your thoughts about the actions of the President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Junker. You must have seen that video of him tossing that woman’s hair in a rather bizarre manner and calling Theresa May nebulous and he then said it was all okay because she was kissing him afterwards. Do you think he would have treated her in that way if she was a man?

REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Well I don't think dealing with people in that way or being nasty is part of negotiations. I’m not saying that that’s occurred but as a general principle it is right whether you are a man or a woman and I wouldn’t like to have any presumption that he has done that because Theresa May is a woman. If he had, then that would be absolutely diabolical but I think we treat our negotiating partners with respect and I think when you do that you end up with a good outcome to those negotiations. We’ve not seen that in negotiations so far. We had the Prime Minister standing on the steps of Downing Street threatening a few months ago stating that Britain was preparing for no-deal, trying to push the European Union to a decision and that’s not to say that the European Union has been exemplary in their negotiations either so I think what we do need to see is everybody behaving a little bit more calmly and negotiating with respect.

SR: Okay, Rebecca Long-Bailey, thank you very much.

REBECCA LONG-BAILEY: Thanks very much.