Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Theresa May, Prime Minister, 8.01.17

Sophy Ridge on Sunday


SOPHY RIDGE: We’re joined now by the Prime Minister, Theresa May, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

THERESA MAY: It’s a pleasure to be here for your new programme, Sophy.

SR: Thank you.  We’ve just been watching that film where people were talking about their concerns about immigration, about wages being undercut, concerns about antisocial behaviour and I was really struck by some of that anger at how immigration has been managed.  When you were Home Secretary immigration went up to record levels so are you to blame for some of that anger?

THERESA MAY: Well we put a number of changes in place in relation to immigration when we came in  precisely because we recognised the concerns that people had about immigration.  The reason why we were looking to bring those changes in was because we knew, particularly for people on lower incomes  immigration did have an impact on their wages but I think what the film that we’ve just seen shows is that when people voted in the referendum on 23rd June, yes they voted to leave the European Union but they also voted for change and this year, 2017, is the year in which we start to make that happen and that’s why, over the coming weeks I’ll be setting out more details of my plan for Britain.  Yes, that’s about getting the right deal for Brexit but it is also about economic reform, we’ll be publishing a housing white paper, green paper, on our industrial strategy, it’s also about social reform – I’m giving a speech tomorrow and I’m going to focus on some of the injustices particularly in mental health and the stigma that still attaches to mental health so it’s about getting the right deal internationally but it is also about a fair deal at home.  

SR:  I’m wanting to talk about your domestic policy agenda and your shared society but let’s just stick to immigration and Brexit for a moment because that is what a lot of people are very concerned about at the moment.  Do you think that people will trust you to deliver that because you haven’t always been able to deliver in the past?  I think we can just bring up on the screen actually something that you said back in 2010 when you were Home Secretary about reducing net migration to the tens of thousands, “The British people want us to do it, it’s the right thing to do so we will do it.”  But you didn’t do it so why should people think it’s different this time?

THERESA MAY: Well I think what people will look at is the fact first of all that we recognise the importance of immigration.  We were the first government to say yes, this is an issue that we need to address and precisely because of the problems, precisely because of the impact it has on people – particularly those on low incomes as I say and research has shown that in certain circumstances it does lead to, to mean that people aren’t able to get jobs and that their income is held down, they get lower wages as a result.

SR: So that’s a red line for you in Brexit negotiations, will immigration be a red line?

THERESA MAY: Well what … if I can just finish, that’s why we looked at changes and did bring changes to immigration from outside the EU but of course immigration from inside the EU with free movement was an area that we weren’t able to bring any controls into.  I have consistently said that the referendum vote was a vote for us to bring control into our immigration system for people coming from the European Union, there are a variety of ways in which that can be done but I’m clear that that is part of what we need to deliver.

SR: So does that mean that in the EU negotiations you are prepared to prioritise full control over immigration above membership of the single market?

THERESA MAY: You see this is where it’s important for us to look at this issue in the right way because I think often people talk in terms as if somehow we are leaving the EU but we still want to kind of keep bits of membership of the EU.  We’re leaving, we’re coming out, we’re not going to be a member of the EU any longer and the question is what is the right relationship for the UK to have with the European Union when we’re outside?  We will be able to have control of our borders, control of our laws, this is what people were voting for on the 23rd June but of course we still want the best possible deal for companies to be able to trade, for UK companies to be able to trade in and operate within the European Union and also European companies be able to trade with the UK and operate within the UK.

SR: So if you are saying we do want control of the borders, that effectively means we can’t be members of the single market, Angela Merkel for example has been quite clear on this.  This is what she said in December, that if you want free movement of goods and services you need free movement of people, we will not allow any cherry picking.  Be straight with people, we’re not going to be members of the single market are we?

THERESA MAY: What I’m talking about is getting the right relationship for the UK with the EU.  We mustn’t think about this as somehow we’re coming out of membership but we want to keep bits of membership.  What we will say is what is the right relationship for a United Kingdom that is no longer a member of the European Union?  There are a whole range of issues on which we will obviously be part of the negotiations once I trigger Article 50 and we enter those formal negotiations, a big bit of that of course is what our trading relationship is.  There are other areas like on the justice and security front about what our relationship continues to be in those areas as well but what they are saying is what is the right deal for the UK, not a model that somebody else uses but what is going to work for the UK.  I think the best possible deal for the UK will also be a good deal for the EU – we’re leaving the EU, we’re not leaving Europe, we want to continue to have those good relationships with members of the European Union.

SR: It’s the third time I’ve asked the question, I was hoping to get an answer about immigration and single market.  I know you don’t want to give a running commentary but I think it is important for people to know the broad basis of where we’re going, that’s certainly what people in Boston were keen to know.  Are you prioritising immigration over membership of the single market?

THERESA MAY: What I’m saying is this – and first of all I will be setting out some more details in the coming weeks as we look ahead to triggering Article 50 but what I’m saying is that I think it’s wrong to look at this as just a binary issue, as to either you have control of immigration or you have a good trade deal.  I don’t see it as a binary issue.  We will outside the European Union be able to have control of immigration and be able to set our rules for people coming to the UK from members states of the European Union but we also as part of that Brexit deal, will be working to get the best possible deal in the trading relationship with the European Union.

SR: Okay, I think that is clearer, we are getting control of immigration, I think we can perhaps read between the lines there.  One person who perhaps wasn’t so confident in your plan for Brexit this week was your chief diplomat to Brussels who resigned.  Sir Ivan Rogers as well wrote a pretty explosive letter when he did it, attacking what he saw as ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking.  Prime Minister, are you muddled?

THERESA MAY: Not at all and if I can just come back to the last point, just to reiterate this point because I think it’s very important.  Anybody who looks at this question of free movement and trade as a sort of zero sum game is approaching it in the wrong way.  I’m ambitious for what we can get for the UK in terms of our relationship with the European Union because I also think that’s going to be good for the European Union so our thinking on this isn’t muddled at all.  Yes, we’ve been taking time, I said we wouldn’t trigger Article 50 immediately.  Some said we should, Jeremy Corbyn said we should but actually there hadn’t been any plans made for Brexit so it was important for us to take some time to actually look at the issues, look at the complexity of the issues and that’s why, as I say, I said we didn’t trigger immediately but we will trigger by the end of March this year.  The work that has been done has set out very clearly for us how complex this is but also how important it is for us to approach this in the right way and the right way to look at this is to say we will be outside the EU, so we’re not leaving Europe, we want a good relationship with the EU, good bilateral relationships with individual countries but we will be outside the European Union but we will get the best possible deal for the UK in terms of our trading relationship with the European Union.

SR: Everything you’re saying suggests that we’re leaving the single market and trying to have trade deals, why don’t you just admit it?

THERESA MAY: What I’m saying is that we want the best possible deal, the phrase I’ve used is the best possible deal for trading with and operating within the single European market.  So we want prosperity for our businesses for the future, I think this is an important relationship for us and it’s an important relationship for member states as well, for countries in the European Union, for their businesses too but what I’m looking at is not the means to the end but what the outcome is and I think this is so important.  What people want is for us to focus on the right outcome for the UK, actually there will be a variety of ways in which we get there but people who simply talk about issues around membership of the single market, access to the single market, are looking at the means – I’m looking at the outcome and the outcome is a really good, ambitious trade deal for the UK with the European Union that enables our companies to trade in and operate in the European single market and that’s both goods and services because of course for the UK, financial services, the services sector generally, is a very important part of our economic relationship with the EU.

SR: 80% of the UK GDP is services of course.  Sir Ivan Rogers, how embarrassing was that for you?

THERESA MAY: Sir Ivan Rogers has been a dedicated civil servant, he made it clear that he would have been leaving in November anyway, Sir Tim Barrow is an excellent negotiator, he’s replaced Sir Ivan, he’s got a very good experience in Europe but this is not just about one individual in a particular post, it is actually about how the whole of government is approaching this and that’s why I set up a specific department, the Department for Exiting the European Union, with a Secretary of State, David Davis, with civil servants, who are focusing on the Brexit arrangements but obviously they are working across the whole of government as well.  Every department is looking at the issues that they will need to address as we leave the European Union and consider not just what that deal is in relation to the EU but what is the future for the UK and that’s where I’m optimistic and ambitious because we will be able to have trade deals around the world, we’ll be able to ensure we are doing what is right for the UK.

SR: I’m keen to talk about your domestic policy agenda as well.  Before we go on to your vision for a shared society, I do want to ask you about the NHS because that is the number one issue that people have been contacting me about, saying you must ask the Prime Minister about this.  Things do look pretty bad, the Red Cross said yesterday it is an humanitarian crisis with people dying on trolleys in corridors, what are you going to do?

THERESA MAY: Well I don’t accept the description the Red Cross has made of this.  Yes, there are huge pressures on the NHS and I think first of all we should thank all those dedicated professionals in the NHS who’ve been working so hard over what is always a difficult period in terms of the number of people who are using the NHS, that’s the Christmas and New Year period.  We had I think something like 150,000 medical professionals working in the NHS on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day and I want to say thank you to them for the work that they’re doing.  Yes, there are significant pressures but we recognise those pressures.  We asked the NHS a while back to set out what it needed over the next five years in terms of its plan for the future and the funding that it would need.  They did that, we gave them that funding, in fact we gave them more funding than they required so funding is now at record levels for the NHS, more money has been going in.

SR: Just quickly, from your answer it doesn’t seem like you are getting up to give an emergency statement on the NHS tomorrow as some people have asked for.

THERESA MAY: Look, there are pressures in the NHS, we see those pressures, we have an ageing population and this brings pressures particularly in the interface between the health service and social care, that’s why we’re looking, we’ve taken some immediate steps in relation to that issue but we are also looking to ensure best practice in the NHS and looking at a long term solution to what has been a problem that’s been ducked by government over the years.  But the NHS has, is facing the pressures of the ageing population, that’s why it’s important that it’s the NHS itself that has produced its five year plan and is now putting that plan into practice.

SR: Tomorrow you are going to be giving a speech on the shared society which sounds like a great slogan but what are the actual details behind what you want to do?

THERESA MAY: Well I think first of all what’s important is that we recognise that this is about dealing with, well it’s about dealing with everyday injustices but it’s also about us all recognising our obligations as citizens within the community and society that we have here in the UK.  It’s about recognising that there is a role for government but government needs to ensure that it is acting as effectively as possible in those areas where it should be taking action and one of the areas that I’m going to focus on tomorrow particularly is the whole area of mental health.  There is still a huge stigma attached to mental health here in the United Kingdom.  I was talking to somebody earlier today and they were making the point that in the workplace if you break your arm and you go in with your arm in plaster and in a sling, people will come up and talk to you about it.  If you have a mental health problem people are more likely to try to avoid you.  We must get over this stigma, we must make sure we are providing the services for people in mental health.  Work has already been done, more money is going in in terms of the NHS but I am going to be setting out tomorrow some more areas where we need to start the work.  It’s not a five minute job, we can’t deal with these issues just overnight, it’s not about one speech, it is about driving reform forward over a period of time and being honest with the public that this does take time to deal with.

SR: It’s clearly something you’re passionate about, how much new money are you putting into it?

THERESA MAY: There will be some money going into the mental health in the NHS, there’s already an extra billion pounds going into mental health in the NHS and …

SR: Just on that, the billion pound funding to the NHS for health, 90% of mental health trusts say it’s not enough money, that’s research by NHS providers last year.

THERESA MAY: Well there is that billion pounds going in, there is some other sums of money that are being used within the NHS to deal with this mental health problem and to deal with aspects that sometimes people don’t think about.  If I can give you an example of something I have already done, when I was in the Home Office one of the issues that concerned me was people in mental health crisis being taken to a police cell as a place of last resort.  It wasn’t good for them, it wasn’t good for the police.  Actually we’ve changed that and we’ve seen the number for whom that happens coming down by 80% and that was a small sum of money that the NHS has been able to put in in order to ensure that there are more, for example more and different places of safety for people …

SR: But just to press you on ring fenced new money for mental health otherwise there is a danger that it will just be swallowed up by the crisis in the NHS isn’t there?

THERESA MAY: Well first of all money is going into mental health but it is always wrong for people to assume that the only answer to these issues is about funding.  Yes, there are some issues there and we have been looking at those and addressing those but actually if we look at the issue of mental health in this country I think it is more about the stigma that still attaches to mental health, it’s about how we all recognise that one in four people – one in four of us will suffer with some mental health issue through their lives.  What we need to ensure is that the parity of esteem that we’ve established between physical health and mental health is actually carried forward, not just in the NHS but in society at large as well so that people recognise that they can also offer support and help to people with mental health and that they don’t shy away from it.  

SR: Okay, if we can now look at more global issues as well because of course 2017 is a year where lots of sands are shifting across the world.  How troubled are you that the US intelligence agencies are claiming that President Putin of Russia has interfered with the Presidential election?

THERESA MAY: Well of course the whole question of cyber-attacks and state sponsored cyber-attacks is one that is not new and it is one that we need to pay attention to and that we need to guard against.  It’s important that we take that whole issue of cyber-security very seriously and we have done here in the UK.  One of the first things that David Cameron did in his government was actually to put extra money into this whole question of cyber-security.

SR: And bearing in mind the apparent closeness of Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin, if Russia were to invade one of our NATO allies, say Estonia or Latvia, would the UK military be committed to defend that country?

THERESA MAY: As you know Article Five of NATO says that we do go to the support of any NATO country that has military action against it so …

SR: So yes?

THERESA MAY: And just one important point I’d like to make actually because sometimes people think that there is going to be a change in the American approach to NATO, from the conversations I’ve had I think America remains fully committed to NATO as we do and we are already taking some steps to show the seriousness with which NATO considers its responsibilities. There will be UK troops on exercise in Estonia this year.

SR: Staying on Donald Trump, I know you’re passionate about equality and helping other women, you showed that in your record as Minister for Women and Equalities, Donald Trump tweeted last night that he is looking forward to meeting you next month and I’m just very interested to know your feelings before that meeting bearing in mind some of the things that Donald Trump said about women. Now I will feel slightly awkward reading this out but I do think it’s important to rehear what Donald Trump has been recorded saying in the past which is about women, “When you’re a star they let you do it, you can do anything, grab them by the pussy.”  Now forgetting the fact that you are Prime Minister for the moment, how does that make you feel as a woman?

THERESA MAY: I think that’s unacceptable and in fact Donald Trump himself has said that and has apologised for it but the relationship that the UK has with the United States is about something much bigger than the relationship between the two individuals as President and Prime Minister, that’s important but actually we have a long standing special relationship with the United States, it’s based on shared values and it’s a relationship where actually in the UK we feel we can say to the US if we disagree with something that they’re doing and because we’ve got that …

SR: So you disagree with Donald Trump?

THERESA MAY: Well I just said that it’s unacceptable but also he himself I believe has gone on to say that it was unacceptable and he has apologised for it but the special relationship that we have with the United States is an important relationship.  It’s an important relationship in terms of security and stability around the world but also obviously as we work together with the United States, on counter-terrorism matters for example, a very important special relationship.  From the conversations I’ve already had, I’ve had two very good, positive conversations with Donald Trump already, from the conversations we’ve had I think we’re going to look to build on that relationship for the benefit of both the US and the UK and I think that’s something and optimistic and positive for the UK for the future.

SR: So sometimes does patriotism have to trump principles then?

THERESA MAY: What I’m talking about is a relationship that exists between the United Kingdom and the United States.  Yes, if we think something is unacceptable, we say that but actually this is about more than one issue, it is about a long standing relationship between us that has been an important bedrock for the security and stability globally that we want to build on, we want to build on in economic terms and I think there is greater prosperity for both of us if we build on that relationship and strengthen it.

SR: Prime Minister, Theresa May, thank you very much for an illuminating interview.