Press Centre

Peston on Sunday

  • Episode: 

    1 of

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Sun 14 Jan 2018
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    10.00am - 11.00am
  • Week: 

    Week 03 2018 : Sat 13 Jan - Fri 19 Jan
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  • Status: 

Robert Peston returns with a new run of his live current affairs programme, providing viewers with an intelligent and lively approach to politics every Sunday.
Providing a fresh perspective on the major stories of the day with a stellar line-up of guests from across the political spectrum as well as cultural figures, Peston on Sunday introduces elements from the arts, literature, and humour to add to the discourse on offer. 
Robert Peston: I thought we’d start with Trump. Are you disappointed that he’s not coming?
Jeremy Corbyn: Not surprised, and...
RP: Disappointed?
JC: No, because I think after his comments over the weekend about other countries particularly in Africa that the reaction against him would be huge.
RP: Would you like to see him ever making a visit to the UK?
JC: Well he’s going to come at some point I suppose, he is the President of the United States he will come at some point and no doubt there will be robust discussion with him.
RP: Is it, is it though do you think a matter of importance to the UK that we have a close relationship with him and he feels comfortable about coming?
JC: Well we shouldn’t say the relationship with the USA depends on who the president is and what the relationship is with the president, it’s a relationship with the whole country of several hundred million people.
RP: Do you accept that it’s, do you accept that it’s an important relationship?
JC: Of course, of course it’s an important relationship…
RP: The most important relationship that Britain has with another country?
JC: No, I think there are many important relationships, the US one is obviously culturally and economically significant and important, also the trading relations we have around the world with obviously the EU but also with India and China and the rest of the world are very important,and our [interrupted] but also if I may say so our relationship with international institutions such as the United Nations is very important and the biggest disappointment of Donald Trump is, well apart from his endless offensive remarks about women, about minorities and about different faiths, is his failure to support international institutions like the United Nations and UNESCO.
RP: But this issue of the so-called ‘special relationship, so many Prime Ministers have set great stall on our relationship with America being different, closer than our relationships with other countries, as Prime Minister it doesn’t sound as though you really believe in the special relationship, if you know if were you to become Prime Minister.
JC: Look, I would want us to have good relations. Good relations with the USA as we’d want good relations with the rest of the world, I would of course visit United States, of course meet whoever the president is at that time and… [RP - but but better relations with you know you know America than with I don’t know, France, Germany, Russia, China, Japan, more important?] Relations that bring about peace and justice around the world are absolutely crucial. A relationship with the USA and influence on the USA is obviously important because it is such a huge military and economic power around the world. 
RP: But obviously you don’t really believe in the special relationship.
JC: Well look, I’m not sure that anyone has succeeded in defining the special relationship. I’ve asked about the special relationship and I was told once by a former Prime Minister, I won’t name the person that if they, if they specify what the special relationship was, it wouldn’t be a special relationship.
RP: I Mean Boris Johnson accused you of damaging that vital economic and diplomatic relationship with the US.
JC: Well in line with so many other ill-thought out, ignorant, ill-considered comments by Boris Johnson that goes in the same shelf.
RP: Now Brexit is going to dominate this year as it did last year. SNP, Nicola Sturgeon this morning on the BBC has urged you again to sign up for Britain remaining in the single market. You’re refusing to do that, why are you refusing to do that?
JC: Well the single market is dependent on membership of the European Union. Do we have a trading relationship with Europe which is tariff-free, which is based on access to that market and access of Europe toi our market, yes, do we push for that in the negotiations, yes, is that what we’ve said to the European Union in opposition, yes [RP - but we], so I don’t quite understand why she would keep saying join the single market when leaving the EU means you leave the single market, you have to make, you have to make a special relationship with the European Union.
RP: Well, hang on a second. Britain could join the European Free Trading Area, like Norway and if we joined EFTA like Norway we would rejoin the European single market.
JC: You could, although we are a very different economy to Norway or Turkey, demanding different degrees of, of access. Surealy what it’s about is making sure our manufacturing industry and our service industries can continue to trade with Europe and of course vice versa. But there are also aspects of the single market one want to think about, such as the restrictions on state aid to industry which I something that I would wish to challenge.
RP: No, but hang on a second. John McDonnell has done a review of whether you would be significantly restricted in your economic policy if you remained in the single market including on issues like state aid and he’s concluded that you wouldn’t be.
JC: He has concluded we wouldn’t be and he has corrected that on the terms of our manifesto but I think as a point of principle that the right of a government to intervene on industries is an important one, and at the moment governments intervene at different levels, France and Germany frequently do, [RP - they do!] other countries feel nervous about it, and there are questions of EU law in it, I think these questions should be clarified in our relationship before we enter into a special trading relationship with Europe.
RP: All the polls show that an overwhelming majority of Labour supporters would like the UK to remain in the European single market, the polling for example most authoritative survey, British Election Survey, which looked at why people voted Labour in the last election, said it was because they thought Labour would have a closer relationship with the European Union. Surely therefore it’s rational for you if not today but soon to say like Nicola Sturgeon, Britain should remain in the European single market?
JC: It’s rational to accept the result of the referendum, it’s rational to understand the need for a close trading relationship with Europe, and that we will have, and that we will do. I think we’re in the right direction on that. Yes of course I understand the views of Labour Party members and of Labour supporters but as a country… No… [RP - but you’re not ruling out, you’re not ruling out this morning that you might end up in the position of being in favour of EFTA for example] We want to make sure there is tariff free trade with Europe, that we protect manufacturing industry and jobs, the university relationship with Europe which is a crucial one because it does so much on research and of course service trading with Europe and that’s the basis on which we’ve spoken to the European Union and many other governments and fellow socialist parties across Europe. But there has to be an agenda here which is an agenda about a continent that opposes austerity, that does do something about growing levels of inequality and doesn’t accept a free market solution to all our problems, because there isn’t a free market solution.
RP: Well many you know as you say European countries, members of the EU, members of the Eurozone don’t adopt what one might describe as a freewheeling, free market approach, so plainly you know the two things are consistent as it were, membership of the EU and a more interventionist approach. But can I just, can I just bring you on to what Andrew Adonis was talking about just now which is MPS have now secured the right to a vote on the terms of whatever the Prime Minister finally negotiates for Brexit, he believes those terms should be put to the British people in a second referendum. Is he right about that?
JC: Well, before we’ve got the vote coming up this week on the EU withdrawal bill, we’ve set down our lines on that, which are about democratic accountability, are about protection of workers environment and consumer rights, and are about human rights across Europe such as the charter of fundamental rights as well as the European Court of Human Rights. If our tests are not met by the government, then we will vote against the bill. But…
RP: But you’re not going to win on those votes, simply because it’s quite clear [JC - how do you know that?] that because the Tory rebels are going to be loyal up until they go to the Lords [JC - have they told you that?}. I think you can assume that that’s a working assumption you should make. But, but on but on… [JC - there’s one [unclear]] But on the question of what happens later in the year, there is a case isn’t there for a referendum on the terms of Brexit?
JC: We are not supporting or calling for a second referendum, what we’ve called [RP - in any circumstances?] what we’ve called for is a meaningful vote in Parliament and that is the one area that I think Parliament has asserted itself just in the vote before Christmas.
RP: We’re going to go to the break in a second but just want to point out to you that when you are talking very much in the present tense at the moment, you say we are not supporting a second referendum, you are not saying we are never supporting a second referendum.
JC: We are not calling for one either.
RP: Okay, you’re not calling for one now, apparently!
RP: Now, I’m going to pick up very quickly, just a last sort of Brexit question, customs union, the world seems to expect that Labour is going to shift to a position of remaining in the customs union. Is that right?
JC: There will have to be a customs union with the European Union, obviously because if you’re in a trading relationship then clearly you can’t at the same time be putting tariffs on goods within the European Union. But also… [RP - but this idea of not having border checks I mean that’s, manufacturers would love us to remain in the, the customs union] Yeah, I’m saying there would have to be a customs union with the EU. I also think… [interrupted] Can I just finish? [RP - sorry, please] I also think we need to look at some aspects of the current customs union and the way in which it is actually tariff heavy against quite a lot of very poor countries and is in some cases protectionist against developing countries, are think there are some areas there we need to look at, so… [RP - you’d push for reform in those areas] Absolutely… Absolutely, because... [RP - but you would you know, be quite happy not to have a sort of Liam Fox character in your government in the sense that you don’t want the right to negotiate bilateral trade deals with the rest of the world, you don’t think that’s important] And you’ll be, you’ll be really shocked here. I’ve no plans to appoint Liam Fox to any position in the Labour government, no plans whatsoever.
RP: Now that wasn’t quite the question I was asking, it was an issue about whether or not the, it matters to a future Labour government, the ability to negotiate bilateral trade deals with the likes of China and America, which you wouldn’t have if you remained in the customs union.
JC: Those bilateral trade arrangements are important because the areas I would want to look at are environmental protection, are human rights standards are the conditions under which workers manufacture goods. Now the EU has varying degrees of special trade agreements with different countries, they very seldom enforce the human rights clauses in it and they very seldom enforce the environmental clauses either. Listen if we want to live on a cleaner safer planet, trade is part, not the only thing but part of the way of achieving that, so let’s not just put it as a blanket.
RP: Sure, but you’d be happy to, you’d be happy to influence that through the customs union, not…
JC: Through a customs union… 
RP - through a customs union, alright, I can’t completely understand but we’ve got to press on. The Tory chairman today announced actually on the Marr programme on the other side that they would be asking all their candidates in the local elections to sign up to a, I think he called it a respect pledge which would mean that their candidates would promise not to use any kind of abusive language when campaigning or in fact ever I think in politics. He says would Labour be prepared to force your candidates to make the same kind of pledge?
JC: It’s a basic in the Labour Party, you treat people with respect and treat each other with respect. I don’t do personal abuse of anybody and I don’t expect anybody else to do it towards any of our candidates or anyone else.
RP: So you won’t do anything special, within…
JC: Well we are quite clear, public behaviour is about respect, is about listening to people, is about how you treat each other. Surely that should be a norm in public life, I, I probably receive a disproportionate amount of personal abuse. As you know I don’t reply to it. I get on with it, treating people with respect.
RP: I I don’t want to labour this point and we’ll keep it quick, as you will remember, your colleague John McDonnell did say on my programme here that it was okay to describe Esther McVey as a stain of humanity because he was expressing his natural anger. That’s not a sort of phrase that I’ve ever heard you use, is it a sort of phrase that politicians would use?
JC: Well I would rather stick to where I disagree with somebody on their policies, I fundamentally disagree with Esther McVey and her approach towards inequality and the poor, and the worst off within our society and I will stick to that.
RP: Your colleague Angela Rayner described your economic policy as it was a word I can’t really use on television, a rude word or bust, a word that means poo or bust… [JC - I think the rest of us, I think the rest of us can work it out!] What did she mean by that?
JC: What she’s saying was that we’re going to have an investment-led economy, it’s going to be a big call and it will, this country needs a big call, we need to invest in schools, in hospitals, in housing, in railways, in roads and she was saying…
RP: But she seems to be conceding though there’s a high risk in your taxing, spending, borrowing approach.
JC: Well, she said it’s a dramatic one, that is the way she put it to me, and dramatic it will be because for the first time for quite a while we will have a government that says actually the cause of this country, our national cause has to be ending homelessness, ending child poverty, ending inequality, having a health service that functions at all levels in the social care function services, and that young people, all young people get a chance of an apprenticeship or a university.
RP: Very quickly, we’ve got, we’re almost out of time, Chris Williamson made a point that most people would agree with, that you know if you want to fund public services properly you’ve got to tax those with more wealth, more expensive houses for example, a bit more. You going to disagree with that?
JC: Well, what Chris was saying was that you deal with the issue of cuts made to council expenditure by central government by raising local tax in order to pay off the local problem… [RP - and charging those with the most expensive properties but that’s a perfectly rational word that your former shadow cabinet colleague…] There are some flaws, there are some flaws in the position. One is roughly 20 percent of council income comes from local tax, 80 percent comes from central government. The poorest Labour-held councils in the country have had the biggest cuts. You cannot meet the gap by just raising local council tax, it’s got to be funded centrally and this government has cynicall removed expenditure, removed possibilities from Labour controlled inner city local authorities that are dealing with the worst social problems in this country, so my [RP - but you’re not, you’re not] pressure is on the government, pay up properly to support our local councils.
RP: But you’re not actually rejecting the idea of some kind of wealth tax? 
JC: Chris has put the view forward that you could do it through a local property tax, I’m more interested in national taxation and in driving down tax havens, tax avoidance and tax evasion.



Robert Peston: Before we get on to your brief, interesting announcement today from the new justice secretary David Gauke that the government may launch effectively an appeal against the decision to release the convicted rapist John Worboys out. It seems like a rather weird interference in the judicial process isn’t it, I mean what possible basis is there for the government behaving this way?


Matthew Hancock: Well of course these decisions have to be taken independently and rightly so but it’s also very important that the process is followed properly and there have been some quite serious accusations that the process wasn’t followed properly and so I think it’s right that David Gauke’s looking into this. Now as you say it’s it’s very much his area of responsibility but I think that it’s, it’s good news that he’s looking at it because this case has caused such an outcry and if there’s questions over the process then it’s right that they’re investigated.


RP: Now, in terms of your brief, your first outing was saying some pretty harsh things about BBC pay. But there’s a marketplace, your basic, I mean you said broadly that the BBC pays its men too much. But that’s just the operation of the market, isn’t it?


MH: No, because the BBC IS funded by licence fee payers and the licence fee is effectively a tax. And if you think about it, we’ve got to have equal pay for equal jobs and I think that the BBC has a special responsibility to lead and to be a beacon, because this issue is broader than the BBC.


RP: But can I just ask, you you said you thought it was extraordinary that a large number of BBC presenters and reporters get paid more than our ambassadors, get paid more than senior civil servants, should that be the ceiling for BBC presenters and reporters then, should they not be paid more than, I don’t know what that is, a hundred and fifty grand or something?


MH: Well the point I made is that making sure that we have equal pay isn’t just about levelling up women’s pay in the BBC it’s about equal pay at a reasonable level…


RP: And you want the BBC to cut the pay of people like John Humphrys to a hundred and fifty grand or so.


MH: Well what I’d say is this, across the rest of the public sector we’ve brought in rules to say that except in exceptional circumstances, people who are paid for by taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be paid more than the Prime Minister. Now outside of the BBC… [RP - and that should apply to the BBC AS well?] Well the BBC of course are responsible for their own pay, and I think that they missed a chance to bring in that kind of rule when we brought it in for the rest of the public sector a few years ago. So now it’s only, it has to go through a special process to pay somebody more than the Prime Minister, of course there’s sometimes circumstances where that’s necessary, but if you think about it this way, in a country around the world, where people are paid for by the taxpayer, who should we be paying the most to? Is it the BBC editor, or is it the ambassador? And also the generals have made a very good point, that you know the people in the armed services, put their, put their life on the line and yet they abide by the public sector pay norms, which is not to have excessive pay and where the Prime Minister’s pay is seen as a guide at the top.


RP: So, would you urge the director general of the BBC to have a frank chat with the likes of as I say John Humphrys, Huw Edwards, Jeremy Vine and just say look, you know you’re obviously having a great time but you know if you want to stay here you know the maximum is a hundred and fifty.


MH: Well I’m looking forward to seeing the director general of the BBC in the next couple of weeks and we will certainly be discussing this topic.


RP: Now, the reshuffle itself, didn’t quite go to plan. Shouldn’t the Prime MInister have checked beforehand through her officials whether Jeremy Hunt and Justine Greening were prepared to move before having those conversations which didn’t go quite the way she’d planned?


MH; Well I thought that the reshuffle brought lots of fresh faces, lots of new voices to the cabinet table, and if you think about Esther McVey at DWP or Brendon Lewis as the Conservative Party chair, or Claire Perry bringing a second voice for environmentalism to the cabine table, alongside Michael Gove who’s of course already there and very established. I think that it brought new energy and ideas, a whole new set of people, Damian Hinds at education I’m sure will be brilliant, I’ve known Damian a long time, he’ll be an excellent education secretary, so I think that it did make sure that we’ve got that, that energy and that vibrancy.


RP: But was it, but was it a good thing that Justine Greening felt she couldn’t stay?


MH: Well, as I understand it, of course I wasn’t in the discussions but as I understand it she was offered a role, I think that it’s a real honour to serve in the cabinet, I understand that she wants to continue working on social mobility and that’s a matter for her, but the thing is Damian Hinds will be [unclear], will be terrific… [RP - Would you agree with Nick Timothy, the you know Theresa May’s former chief, he said basically good riddance to Justine Greening, was he right?] Well I think Justine’s done great work across a whole series of portfolios, transport in international development and of course in education until now. But Damian Hinds, came into Parliament same time as I did, I know him very well, I think he’s going to be brilliant at education.


RP: Is is it helpful, I mean Jo Johnson thinks it’s profoundly unhelpful to have Nick TImothy making these comments in public.


MH: Well loads of people make comments about loads of things in public. So, you know, it’s part of life, I love the rumbustuousness of it, I love the fact that you know there’s lots of free commentary in our media, I think it’s terrific and so loads of people are going to comment.


RP: Now you were part of David Cameron’s government which promised there would be a second review of the press, a so-called Leveson 2, which also said that you know the law should be changed such that if somebody feels that their privacy’s been invaded by the press the costs of challenging the press on that should be met by newspapers, why have you changed your mind?



H: Well as it happens I wasn’t a member of the government, now [RP - you were a minister] I wasn’t when the first Leveson debates went through, but that’s neither here nor there, the point is that the press face some very serious challenges, in particular local press, and the world has changed enormously over the last few years, especially with the impact of social media. And a strong democracy requires a basis of agreed objective fact on which we can then have disagreements about the way to go forward and come to a view. And and and finding a way to have a robust democracy based on a decent discussion, based on fact, is incredibly difficult and incredibly important, and I don’t think that the amendments passed by the House of Lords last week would have helped at all to get there. In fact the amendments by putting more pressure on local press in particular I think would have been, would be the death knell of democracy if they were brought in at a local level.


RP: Just just on a point of fact, I mean I know that the government will challenge the House of Lords amendments when they come to the Commons, but has your department definitively made up its mind that there shouldn’t be a Leveson 2?


MH: We had a consultation which closed very recently, we had 170,000 responses to that consultation, we haven’t published the response and so as the new secretary of state… [RP - so when will you publish the formal decision?] Pretty, pretty shortly, but as… [RP - and can we assume that we know what the answer is, that you’re going to come down against a second Leveson?] Well there’s a proper process to go through, including consultation with Sir Brian himself, and so we will go through the process properly… [RP - but you’ve said you don’t want it] I don’t want these amendments in the House of Lords that were passed, because I think they would be very damaging… [RP - so there could be a second review] Well we are coming to the view, having objectively looked at all of the evidence and the 170,000 responses which my, my team in government are currently going through.