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Clegg: People don’t vote for economic self-harm

October 31, 2016 5:26 PM
By Paul Walter in Liberal Democrat Voice

Nick CleggNick Clegg talked on Sunday morning with Robert Peston about Brexit and the Richmond Park by-election. Here's a transcript of the interview:

Robert Peston: Last time I looked the bookies actually I think put you just as favourites to win Richmond Park. Are you going to win?

Nick Clegg: Well we're the underdogs, he's obviously the, Zac Goldsmith's obviously the establishment candidate, he has the sort of glamour of minor royalty in Richmond, he has the support of the Conservative Party, of UKIP, of a lot of the papers and so on, he's poured a lot of time and money in to establishing himself in the constituency. But, I've never dared differ, disagreed with Allegra but I disagree in one very important respect which is that Heathrow is of course the reason this by-election's being held, Zac Goldsmith failed to do what he said. He said he'd stop Heathrow and he as a Conservative would make representations to the Conservatives, to Conservative ministers to stop it. We've had this by election, we're having this by-election because he failed in that task and so…

RP: But you're also, you're also anti-Heathrow

aren't you?

NC: Yes we are… [unclear]

RP: But actually this is not going to be a by-election about Heathrow at all, is it.

NC: Well I think the fatal logic in his approach is if he failed to persuade a Conservative government not to go ahead with Heathrow as a Conservative MP, he's going to have considerably less influence by flouncing out as an independent.

RP: So are you going to make this a by-election about Europe?

NC: No, look, a by-election's about lots of things, about local hospitals, about…

RP: Because Richmond Park was a very strongly pro-remaining in the EU constituency.

NC: Yeah, sure and that should be one of the issues.

So not only has Zac Goldsmith proved to be ineffective in defending the interests of his constituents as far as Heathrow is concerned, he's been unrepresentative in fact woefully unrepresentative of their views on the most important issue of the day, on Brexit.

These things are curiously enough linked of course, 'cause in my view, having spent years discussing Gatwick versus Heathrow when I was in government, I'm absolutely convinced the thing that tipped the scales in favour of Heathrow in the end was all to do with Brexit because Theresa May and others quite rightly are starting to panic about the perception of this government among the business community. They thought, the shorthand way of assuaging concerns in the business community is to say, 'Look we're open for business, we're going to go ahead with Heathrow,' which has always been the business community's and the Treasury's preference. So oddly enough - great irony this, by advocating Brexit, people like Zac Goldsmith made it more likely that the decision eventually would go in favour of Heathrow, as it has done.

RP: Now you've devoted your entire life, almost, to the European cause. Was there a single thing that Tony Blair wrote and said last week on what a disaster the vote was and how we should as a nation keep open the possibility of a second vote. Was there anything that he said that you disagree with?

NC: No. I agree with every single word of it. I could have said it, in fact I think he said it extremely well. I think, I think one of the points that he made and that I make is that of course the Brexit press is trying to rewrite history. They're trying to pretend that everybody voted for Brexit. In fact there were two massive votes. There was a massive vote in favour of leaving, and there was a massive vote - 16.1 million people, that is more people than any number of voters have ever voted for a winning government in the modern era - so you had two massive votes going in diametrically opposite directions. It is a woeful rewriting of history to claim that the country expressed one single opinion, or even worse still, which is now the additional rewriting of history, that they knew exactly what Brexit meant. Given the Brexiteers, this sort of motley crew of Farage, Gove and Johnson didn't bother to tell people what it meant it's quite right now that people like Tony Blair say, 'Hang on a minute, yes of course now we're heading towards the Brexit, the exit door, but since we don't know what the destination is of course the country should have another opportunity in one shape or form to make a judgement on the final package.'

RP: But his, I think, fundamental point, is that British people did not vote for what people now characterise as hard Brexit. What Boris Johnson and Michael Gove sold was what is now characterised essentially as soft Brexit, which is more or less full access to the single market, not out of the customs union,

not out of the single market. If we get hard Brexit, should there be a second referendum?

NC: Ye-well, I think there should be. George Osborne put it very well, here's an odd consolation… [RP - Say again?] George Osborne put it rather well, here's an odd consolation, Tony Blair, George Osborne and Nick Clegg all agree that the country voted for Brexit not for hard Brexit. People don't vote for economic self-harm, yes they vote on immigration, identity, they don't like fussy bureaucrats in Brussels, I get all of that, they're not happy, many people weren't. I met many hundreds, thousands of Brexit voters who said, 'I'm going to vote Brexit because I'm really just simply not happy with the way sort of life is panning out at the moment.' I get all of that, but to somehow translate that into saying and people now want to quit a British created single market, the largest of its kind anywhere in the world which has provided immense economic and positive economic transformation for our country, I think is a woeful misreading of people's intentions and rewriting of history.

RP: But so just very briefly though, isn't your position just a bit too nuanced? Shouldn't just all of you get together, you know, Tony Blair, George Osborne, and say actually the vote was a terrible mistake, we need another vote.

NC: No because there is a way forward for, for the government [RP - Is there?]. Well I think the only way forward is for Theresa May and Philip hammond to pluck up the courage to face down Liam Fox, to face down the Daily Mail, to face down all these sort of headbangers on the back benches [RP - And allow some immigration] and to say listen, and to say to people, and she [RP - And to pay into the budget?] yes, I think that might have to be one of the requirements. By the way, if we want to do what the government says, which is to remain a full leading member simply of some of the security-related arrangements in the European Union, Europol, for instance, the things that keep us safe from cross-border crime, you can't do that just on those narrow terms without paying some money into some kind of institutional EU budget. So at some point people are going to have to come clean with the fact that there aren't simple either/or choices…

RP: Would you like Keir Starmer and the Labour Party to be bolder and clearer on this?

NC: I do wish, I-I, would like Keir Starmer to be a bit more Blairite, put it that way.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. As part of the Liberal Democrat Voice team he helps with photos and moderation on the site, as well as occsionally contributing articles. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.