Press Centre

Peston On Sunday Transcripts Sunday May 20, 2018

Published: Mon 21 May 2018

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Robert Peston: Since we’re on the Royal wedding, did you watch it yesterday?

Nicola Sturgeon: I, I saw the end of it, I was busy yesterday, I was attending the opening of the opening of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh but I caught the end of it when I got home and you know whatever their titles, whatever anybody’s views on the Royal family or the monarchy happen to be it’s impossible not to feel happy for two people who you know when you look at them they’re obviously very much in love so I wish them well.

RP: I mean in terms of the image of the whole country, obviously including your country, some people were a bit disappointed that Meghan Markle’s mother didn’t walk her down the aisle. Was that a disappointment to you?

NS: I think it was her decision, we can all have our own views, I actually thought the fact I didn’t see this part but the fact she walked the first part of the walk down the aisle on her own with children, you know if you’re looking for symbols, if you’re looking for a proud statement of feminine principle then I think you can find it there, but these things are very personal, yes it was a wedding in the full glare of publicity but a bride on her wedding day will make decisions based on what feels right to her and I think Meghan Markle was as entitled to do that as anybody else getting married is.

RP: Now back to the day to day business of politics, the Scottish… [NS - if we must!] I think we probably ought to, the Scottish Parliament has rejected the EU withdrawal bill, what do you see as the significance of that? Is there any way back so that the Scottish Parliament can give approval?

NS: Oh there is if the Westminster government wants to take it, we set out clearly what that would require and if the Westminster government has the will to reach an agreement then certainly it can be done. You know this is a debate that I appreciate often sounds very technical but to put it very simply, there are some powers, powers over farming fishing, environmental protections, food standards, food labelling that are under the current law devolved to the Scottish Parliament while we’re in the EU they’re influenced at EU level, but this is a debate that happens after Brexit. The current law says these powers should return to the Scottish Parliament and if we want to have UK-wide frameworks which would make sense in some areas. What the UK government wants to do is centralise these powers at Westminster for up to seven years and have the ability to impose things on Scotland and why that matters is that it affects things like farming support for example or environmental standards or food standards, there’s an article in the Observer today about the kind of lowering of food standards that UK governments might embrace to get a trade deal with America. Now these are things that the Scottish Parliament should be able to decide, but if we sign up to the withdrawal bill as it stands, we will be powerless to stop these kinds of things and instead have policies like that imposed upon us, and that’s neither in line with the devolution settlement nor is it sensible in my view as we look ahead.

RP: Some of your critics have said that you’re being disingenuous that one the one hand you want a single market with the EU, but as a result of wanting these powers you obviously don’t want a single market with the rest of the UK.

NS: Well that’s not the case I mean I’ve just said and I’ve said all along that there will be matters and this would be true I think it’s important to say even if when Scotland is an independent country because of the geography of the UK there will be areas where in order to ease trade across these islands we will want to have common standards and common frameworks so I don’t dispute that at all and never have done. The question is how do we arrive at what the content of those frameworks are, my view is that it should be by agreement, respecting the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Parliament or Northern Ireland for that matter, the UK government wants to have the power to impose the content of these frameworks and that rides a coach and horses through the 20-year-old devolution settlement, and I don’t think you know as First Minister I couldn’t in all conscience say to the Scottish Parliament that it should sign up to something that allows our ability in areas that are devolved to be completely obliterated in terms of doing things that we think are right for Scotland's interests.

RP: Your predecessor Alex Salmond said the other day that Theresa May’s rejection of what you want makes the case for an independence vote sooner rather than later overwhelming. Do you do you agree with that and when will you bring this issue of the timing of the vote back on to the agenda?

NS: Well I’ve said and you know I said this around about this time last year that once we get some clarity which hopefully we will in the autumn of this year about the Brexit outcome and the future relationship between the UK and the EU then I will consider again this issue of the timing of an independence referendum, I’m not going to say more about that in advance of that moment arising but of course over the next couple of weeks we will I suppose restart a debate about why independence for Scotland is an opportunity and what those opportunities are. As you know we’ve had a growth commission looking at the opportunities of independence it’s report will be published in the coming days and I think that’s quite an important moment because if you think about the last couple of years in the UK, it’s been very much a debate about how we cope with the damage of Brexit. What I think Scotland now has the opportunity to do is look at how we seize the opportunities that lie ahead so a debate based very much on ambition and hope not a debate that’s based on despair which is how the Brexit debate so often feels.

RP: We haven’t got much time, so a couple of quick questions. We’ve got Lord Mandelson here who’s very much in favour of the UK getting another referendum on the terms of Brexit. Would you support a call for another vote another referendum once we’ve got the Brexit terms?

NS: Well look the SNP will be the block to that, I’ve I’ve made that clear I think to be perfectly frank about it I think Lord Mandelson really needs to do some work with his own party to get them on side before that is even a realistic prospect. But I guess if there is to be another EU referendum whether on the principle or on the terms of the deal the big question for Scotland would be what happens if we get the same outcome, where the UK votes to leave as a whole but Scotland votes to remain, because that’s what’s happened the last time, it’s not a question of the people of Scotland changing their mind, so how do we make sure that Scotland’s voice actually gets listened to and respected. So you know the SNP is not a block to this but I think there are others who perhaps need convincing.

RP: And very briefly and finally, last week you got a bit of stick, I think even from some of your own supporters for telling Jamie Oliver you were going to ban buy one get one free pizza deals. Any regrets about that?

NS: I think the this media characterisation of this has been oversimplified so we’ll set out our proposals in the coming weeks. We don’t want to make the purchase of food the weekly shop more expensive for families, that is absolutely not what I’m interested in doing but we do want to look at how we reduce promotions and initiatives that actually encourage over-consumption. So this is a difficult area but it is an important area, obesity is a big problem, not just in Scotland but across the UK further afield it causes a lot of health issues for people later in life, so just as Scotland has done with alcohol, taken bold measures to try to reduce the harm of alcohol, I think it’s time for governments to be bold around obesity as well, but we’ll do that with a proper debate and while I know that the media will always try to simplify things we’ll make sure that that debate looks at all of the complexities and we’ll strive to get it right.

RP [to Peter Mandelson]: Peter, would you make common cause with, do you see an opportunity there for a bridge with Nicola Sturgeon for your second vote hope?

PM: Well, let me explain why I’m in favour of a public vote giving the public a final say on the Brexit deal. It’s partly because it’s the biggest decision this country’s ever going to face I mean we all know that the government’s already decided to pay any price, make any concession, pay through the nose to get out of the European Union, the question is what’s our future relationship going to be and how well is that going to serve the economy, so it’s a huge decision for people to take. Secondly, I don’t think that leaving it to you know 650 politicians in Westminster on their present performance with all respect Sarah [Wollaston] is going to reach enable them to reach a very strong consensus or an agreement on the final deal, but here’s the real point I’ve made. The reason why the government’s getting away with you know continuing at loggerheads over their Brexit strategy, they are completely at sixes and sevens, shall I tell you why, because they are unaccountable, there’s no sanction against the government at the end of the day. They can do what they like. They can railroad Parliament, they can override any Parliamentary opinion they think, if you had a people’s vote put in place they really would need to know that they have to act in the public interest, they have to produce a deal that was really going to serve everyone and if they didn’t do that, if they didn’t do that then the public would see to them.

RP: [to NS] Very lovely talking to you, First Minister. Anything you particularly want to question, challenge Peter on that?

NS: Well as I said it’s not the SNP he has to work on, it’s Labour. I absolutely agree that the government is all over the place, hopelessly divided, no longer has the interests of the country at heart but you know how do we get the majority in the House of Commons, I think there’s a majority there to be hsad for example for staying in the customs union for staying in the single market, the barrier to some of this just now is the divisions within the Labour Party so I guess my advice would be if he can to try to bring Labour together behind some sensible positions.



Robert Peston: If we could just start with I suppose some of your slightly contentious remarks which you repeated last week about Labour MPs who don’t toe the line, you wouldn’t regret seeing them out of the party. Who did you have in mind in particular?

Len McCluskey: Well it wasn’t a question of me wanting them out of the party, unfortunately… [RP - out of their seats] Well unfortunately as you know Robert when you do pre-records which the BBC did they very cleverly pick out bits that give a distorted view. Had people seen the full interview when I was specific… [RP - give us the context] When I was specifically asked the question, ‘Do these group, this rump of right-wing MPs would I want them out of the party,’ My answer was no, I’d just like them to be more supportive of the party. You know Peter [Mandelson] prior to the 2017 elections said that every single day he would work against Jeremy Corbyn but he had the good grace following the 2017 election to say that he’d got it wrong. Now many of the right wing Labour MPs and it’s only a small rump of them continue to criticise they took Peter’s line day in day out, the first thing they thought about was how do we criticise and attack… [RP - would their local parties in your view be right to deselect them if they don’t start toeing the line more or less immediately] Accountability is always been there within the Labour Party, there’s always been trigger ballots for MPs. My view is that these particular MPs, there’s nothing wrong with criticising the leadership if you have a particular view but it should be less feral, less hysterical, and more constructive and that way we will have a better chance of having a united party in order to gain power and that’s what we want, we want a Labour government to give us a better Britain, working people are desperate for something different out there. So my argument and my view and my message is just as you followed Peter before the election, follow him after the election and be a little bit more constructive about following Jeremy Corbyn.

RP: And and and on the issue of antisemitism you described some of the remarks by a Chris Leslie or a John Woodcock or an Ian Austin where they say the Labour Party’s too slow to crack down on it, you say they were smearing the leader. Do you regret, I mean do you really think they were smearing Jeremy Corbyn?

LM: Well, you’ve only got to look at the history of all of those particular MPs that I named, every single issue that comes up they not only criticise Corbyn but they run straight out to the right wing press who are happy to give them a platform, in order to attack Corbyn… [RP - but there is an antisemitism problem within Labour, isn’t there?] The issue, the issue of antisemitism needs to be dealt with. Shami Chakrabarti the first thing that Corbyn did two years ago was to ask Shami Chakrabarti an individual has the highest integrity to do a report. It hadn’t been implemented, in fact Shami said only the other day that since Jennie Formby became the new general secretary of the Labour Party four weeks ago she’s done more than the previous administration have done for two years.

RP: She also said literally just a couple of days ago that it’s a disgrace that the Ken Livingstone case hasn’t been settled.

LM: I think that’s true, it should have well been settled and that…

RP: Should Ken be out of the party?

LM: Oh that’s a process that needs to go through…

RP: But what do you think? You must have a view.

LM: I do, I mean… [RP - what’s that view? Should he be out of the party?] Let me say this, if there was a rule in the party against stupidity then he and lots of other people should have been excluded. Because it was… [RP - in relation to the] Because it was bizarre and I said it at the time what he came out with. I’m not interested in the historical references but the reality is there’s a process so I’m not judge and jury in that sense, the process has to go through it needs to be done very quickly now and I think under the new leadership of the Labour Party we’ll get to the bottom of this issue of antisemitism. But I reject the idea that my party, a party that I’ve been in for 47 years, is a toxic Labour Party. That is antisemtic and misogynist, that is nonsense. And so I’m looking forward to dealing with these issues speedily and getting those antisemites and if there’s any Labour Party members watching your show Robert who are antisemites, my message is clear, get out of your party we don’t want you.

RP: I mean it looks like a misjudgement that Martha Osamor signed that letter criticising the actions being taken against some individuals who are accused of antisemitism. Do you think Jeremy Corbyn should withdraw support for her to become a peer then?

LM: No, I think the reality is that as normal in these circumstances because of the feral nature of I said the historical, the hysterical atmosphere that is there, that people can say things. Look, I don’t judge who Jeremy puts in the Lords or puts in his cabinet or anything else, what I know is that under the new leadership of the Labour Party headquarters these matters will be dealt with speedily and we can all then concentrate on what people are really interested in, which is decent jobs, homes for their kids and a future.

RP: No, and and you mentioned misogyny and obviously you’re very focused on pay, why was the gender pay gap in your union wider than the national average?

LM: Dead simple, it’s because… [RP - is it because of you and your pay?] Because of the fact that my union’s got 72 percent male and we draw our officer from our membership so the, is a proportion of our officers within the, within our union who our male and it distorts the figures, but what we… [RP - so that sounds like there’s a glass ceiling for women in your union which you’ve got to do something about, haven’t you?] No absolutely not, a glass ceiling at the top of my union, at the top… [RP - Well no no but it but if there are more women if there are all men being paid more it’s either illegal or there’s a glass ceiling] Ah but that’s the whole point. My union is an equal pay employer, that’s the most important thing…. [RP - so there must be a glass ceiling] This is the most important thing, men and women doing the same job or job of equal value in my union, it’s equality-proofed, our scheme, get the same pay. But at the top of my union, my senior team, 50 percent of them are women, there’s no glass ceiling.

RP: And will you be replaced by a woman?

LM: Oh who knows, the membership will make that decision when the time comes.

RP: And finally, you’re doing your third term, you said you’d only serve one. That makes your sort of attack on stale right-wing MPs a little bit disingenuous doesn’t it?

LM: Well not really the reality is of course when I first run the law was such that you had to finish at the age of 65, that law has changed and as a result of people who requested me to stay on I stayed on, in the context of the political situation.

RP: Ah you were referring to the, you were just responding to what the people wanted.

LM: Absolutely, a man of the, a man of the people as always.



Robert Peston: Matt, you have announced that you will legislate to make social media safer, your release said but there was absolutely no detail in what you’ve said publicly. It’s a bit of a publicity stunt isn’t it, you just want a bit of you know, what are you going to do?

Matt Hancock: On the contrary it’s a decision that we will legislate to make the internet a safer place to be, I don’t want… [RP - but what does that mean?] Well, I was about to answer that question, I, I, don’t want the trolls to win, I want to make sure that online we have a pleasant place where people have yes have the freedoms and the liberties that the internet has brought in larger scale than ever before, but also so that people are safer. Let me give you an example. There is in the terms of reference of many of the social media companies they have a whole series of things that they say should happen on their site and these things aren’t enforceable… [RP - so you can’t for example access Facebook unless you are 13 years old as I understand it] Well that’s right and and and… [RP - So if you discover for example that you know on one of these social media sites there were lots of underage kids, what would you do} Well at the moment there’s no teeth on that at all and… [RP - so what teeth do you want] Well we ultimately a fine, and but we want to consult on the details of all of this, we want to get it right, we’ve got a balance to pull off between making sure that the internet is a force for good and innovation can continue and also making it a safer place for children and where the acts that are already illegal are properly dealt with and also that it isn’t such a Wild West in terms of how people treat each other. And this is a difficult challenge to pull off, but it's a very important one to get right.

RP: So how do you, well it is difficult because you know one person’s troll is another person exercising their freedom of expression.

MH: That’s right and a lot of it comes down to putting people in control themselves of what they see and access. So take the question of children, and I think this is where some [unclear] are the most… [RP - I think children is is absolutely what I think concern most of us] Yes this is, this is undoubtedly at the heart of the concerns, the, you know I think this is one of the hardest times to be a parent. This new technology has come and made changes to childhood that we couldn’t have dreamed of when we were growing up even just a generation ago.

RP: Sure, but isn’t it the addictive nature of social media that’s the problem, and how are you gonna, you know you can't change social media in that sense to make it less addictive, there’s nothing you can do in that respect.

MH: No I disagree fundamentally with this argument that there’s nothing you can do. You know, ultimately, we have a set of rules and norms some set out by law some in terms of how we behave offline that the generations we’ve honed down. Online… [RP - but would you legislate for example to force social media companies to limit the amount of time that young people can spend online and fine them if they don’t enforce those restrictions. Because it is the addictive nature that many people worry about.] Yes and whether you do that through parental controls or through absolute limits is an open question. We want to have a broad consultation…

RP: But what do you think, what’s your instinct? Is this a role for the nanny state or are you going to leave it to individual parents?

MH: My instinct there is that is that parental controls don’t work unless they have a strong backstop behind them. So for instance on this question of children saying they are 13, ticking the box to say that they are old enough to go on these social media platforms when in fact they are not, how you ensure that a child really is 13 is hard because before the age of 18 there aren’t these sorts of legal documentation and we don’t have ID cards in this country. But asking for a parent to verify that somebody is old enough would put a big… [RP - so you’ll mandate that, you will mandate that?] Well that’s one of the things that we’re looking at.

RP: Are you definitely going to do that, I think people want, no this issue of the pernicious nature of some aspects of social media it’s been with us for years and governments have done nothing.

MH: Well we are concluding a big piece of legislation on data protection hopefully to become law this coming week. We’re publishing a white paper later in the year with with with more details in this area. What we’re committing to today is that we will legislate… [RP - when, when, when will you legislate?] And I’m also working… In the next couple of years, we want to get the details right, but I’m also working internationally because I don’t believe that just because these tech giants are global we therefore have no control of them. We are a nation state and we can write our own laws, but it is better if we can do this with other like-minded countries so I’m going to France on Thursday to talk about this, I was in America last week talking about it, and other countries.

RP: All I would say is you’ve said it’s going to take us a couple of years. Actually hundreds of thousands of kids’ lives could be damaged in that period. Surely you should be speeding this up.

MH: Well there is an urgency to getting it done and there’s also an importance of getting it right. And we’ve got to balance those two things.




Robert Peston: Paul there’s this great row debate going on in cabinet about the nature of our customs relationship with the EU. How damaging is it for the confidence of business that you know all this time after we voted to leave the EU the government still doesn’t have a position on what our trade arrangements should be?


Paul Drechsler: Well look good morning Robert and I’m delighted to be here. May I say first of all that in the context of the customs union the real message from the CBI will be there are tremendous opportunities for the UK to grow our businesses invest and create more opportunities to make difference in education in health and many other areas. That’s what we see as the great opportunity. The challenge of getting on with business is bringing about clarity and detail on the nature of our long-term relationship with the European Union. One part of that and just one part of that final relationship is the customs union from a business point of view we have something that works brilliantly well at the moment...


RP: Which is membership of the single market, and membership of the customs union.


PD: And the customs union arrangement at the moment works well, so what we want to see… [RP - so you’d like that replicated] Well what we would like to see is we continue with that until there is something better that comes along that actually [unclear]... [RP - so you like the Prime MInister’s backstop arrangement that says until she can prove that one of her other customs ideas actually works, we would effectively remain in the customs union] Well I think what the Prime Minister’s rightly doing is thinking about the impact on the economy and the most positive impact on the economy is not to cause delays at our borders, be they at ports or other border challenges, not to increase costs for businesses, and to ensure that we can grow our businesses, because that’s the best way to create future prosperity.


RP: You’re a practical businessman, okay, she has described her position of staying effectively in the customs union, not 100 percent but effectively in the customs union as a backstop, but do you actually believe that her other proposals, the so-called new customs partnership or maximum facilitation would actually work? Do you think actually this backstop will be the position forever, effectively?


PD: Well we’ve looked at the alternatives we don’t see that either can deliver a solution today. So unless… [RP - how long would they take to deliver a solution] And until there’s a better solution available we should continue with what we have, so I think that that’s absolutely clear. I think the Prime Minister has got to work with her team, right across the party, to deliver a solution in sufficient detail that in businesses we can understand what the impact would be and ensure that there’s enough clarity so businesses know where they stand. That’s from businesses’ point of view, all they want is clarity and detail about a future arrangement so people invest in the UK as the most exciting the best place in the world in which to live, work and do business. That’s what we want.


RP: Now but quite a lot of the Brexit supporters someone like Jacob Rees-Mogg, would say actually you could have that kind of clarity with a hard Brexit, you know with essentially a free trade arrangement, is clarity more important or is a soft Brexit more important?


PD: Well I think what the next generation want is clarity that gives them confidence they can enjoy at least the same opportunities and benefits that we did growing up whether that’s in London or right across the UK… [RP - But I, sorry, but I’m not clear what you think the priority for business is. Would you rather have a decision on our future relationship, whatever that decision is or are you absolutely clear that the Prime Minister has got the time that she needs to get it right in from her point of view?


PD: I’m absolutely clear that the right decision for this country is the one that has to be made. We have a set arrangements… [RP - no, sorry, what does that mean, that that, I simply don’t understand what you’re saying] Well we have a set of arrangements today that work well for business to unless or until… [RP - you want those preserved is what you’re saying] Until there’s a better solution in place that demonstrates the impact on the economy… [RP - do you see anything coming out of the government that looks like a better solution] I have seen no detail whatsoever that demonstrates to businesses that we can actually enjoy better opportunities for the future, for a stronger economy, and more jobs, in fact to the contrary the uncertainty at the moment is costing this country and costing us opportunities.


RP: Now there are quite a lot of people including Lord Mandelson over there who believes whatever the final Brexit deal there should be another referendum. What’s your own view on that?


PD: Well look from my point of view I think we have elected people in Parliament whose job is to understand the detail and the impact of all of these decisions and make judgements. They should do their job, they should put the future of the nation and the next generation first, that’s what I’d like to see as where the priority and emphasis is. If they;re unable to do that then as politicians they’re responsible to figure out an alternative way forward.