Theresa May, not denying things
Here is the full BBC transcript of the interview with Theresa May, Home Secretary, today on BBC1 Sunday Politics. She does not deny that she wanted Andrew Mitchell to go, that the Americans have lodged a complaint about her decision to stop Gary McKinnon’s deportation and that she wants to be Conservative leader.
Andrew Neil: The Home Secretary Theresa May joins me now for the Sunday interview. Theresa May, welcome to the Sunday Politics. Looking at the Sunday papers this morning, many of your colleagues think that David Cameron needs to get a grip and even have a clear-out of his Downing Street machine. Do you agree?
Theresa May: No, what I agree with, Andrew, is that if you look at the big things that the government has been doing, the things that will matter to voters, if you look at some of the decisions that we’ve made this week, for example, and some of the things that have happened this week – unemployment’s down, crime is down, inflation down, the announcement in relation to our relationship with Europe on justice and home affairs matters, what we’re doing in immigration – those are the things that really matter to voters. That’s where they think –
AN: Pardon me, Home Secretary, that’s the point, the Downing Street machine seems to go from shambles to shambles and all this that you would regard as good news isn’t being covered.
TM: Well, it’s down to the media what actually gets covered, but for people –
AN: It wasn’t down to the media for the Prime Minister to make a shambles of the energy policy.
TM: For voters what matters is what government actually delivers for them. I think for voters what matters is the values that drive the government. And what is driving this government is that we are a government that wants to be on the side of people who work hard, who want to get on in life. And you see that coming through in a whole range of decisions that we’re making that matter to people actually on the doorstep.
AN: So you don’t think he needs to do a bit of house cleaning for the Downing Street machine?
TM: No, I think that we are – of course we’re in mid-term and there are always some bumps along the way, particularly in the mid-term of a government. But what I think people will look at are the real issues that we’re dealing with and the difference that we’re going to make to their lives.
AN: Well, we had the botched energy announcement that I referred to by the Prime Minister. He’s now moving onto your turf with a speech in this upcoming week he’s going to tell us prison sentences must convey a real sense of punishment, that’s what Downing Street’s telling us, but rehabilitation’s not a dirty word. Isn’t that current policy?
TM: We have been looking at rehabilitation for some time. What we are doing, what is happening now is we’re looking across the board at making sure that at every bit of the criminal justice system we’re doing what is necessary to fight crime, prevent crime, and then deal with criminals appropriately.
AN: Isn’t that the job?
TM: Yeah, but that’s what we’ve been doing.
AN: So what’s new?
TM: That’s what we’ve been doing. But what we’re announcing this week is some changes. For example, in my area, one of the issues, if you look at organised crime, gangs, one of the issues is we know there are middle men who have firearms that they then rent out to criminals who then use them. There isn’t at the moment an offence for somebody to possess a firearm with the intent to supply it to somebody else. I think that it is right that we introduce that offence, because those people who are supplying the firearms are as guilty as the people using them when it comes to the impact.
AN: People will be surprised that you or previous governments haven’t done that before. But let me move on. Can you confirm widespread reports that you were in the vanguard of efforts to get rid of Andrew Mitchell?
TM: Well, I’m not going to comment on any private conversations, Andrew. What has happened is Andrew – obviously the incident took place, Andrew apologised to the police officer, the apology was accepted. The police didn’t take any action -
AN: Sure we been told that. You wanted him to go didn’t you?
TM: – and now the – Andrew has resigned. And frankly, I think that is an end to it.
AN: But you wanted him to go, didn’t you?
TM: As I said, I’m not going to talk about private conversations. Andrew has now resigned. I think that’s an end of the issue.
AN: But I suspect, as many people do, Home Secretary, that you wanted him to go because Mr Mitchell, the whole row about him, was undermining, it was making more difficult the already difficult job of reforming the police.
TM: No, it wasn’t actually. And reform of the police, we’ve been reforming the police now for two and a half years. We’ve got a wide range of reforms that we’re putting in place, and what we’re now seeing is that that reform is beginning to work. We’re seeing that despite the fact that chief constables have had to cut their budgets, crime is falling, the front line is being protected. And confidence is being maintained in the service that the police are providing. But the big change is the one that you haven’t talked about. (talking together)
AN: We’ll just talk about that issue. The police have been very – you know better than I, you were at the Police Federation, not me. They’ve been very angry with these reforms, and it surely stands to reason, Mr Mitchell made them even angrier with you.
TM: No, the police have – obviously the Police Federation did raise concerns about the reforms. As you say, anybody who saw what happened at the Police Federation conference could see that for themselves. But we have obviously been talking to them and chief officers and superintendents, because we are putting through wide-ranging reforms to give the police more discretion, to give them better ability to exercise their judgement, a greater professionalism, and for police and crime commissioners, which is the most significant democratic reform.
AN: Come on these reforms. Mrs Thatcher once described ITV as ‘the last bastion of restrictive practises’ in industry. Does Mrs May regard the police as one of the last bastions of an unreformed public service?
TM: No, I think there are changes that are needed, which is what we’re putting through in this public service. And in a sense, I think what we’re doing in policing is a good exemplar of the approach the government’s taking to public services across the board, which is that it is possible to cut spending, to cut budgets, and improve the service. And we’re seeing that the result of policing.
AN: How different will the police look in five years’ time if all your reforms go through?
TM: Well, there will be a significant difference. Obviously local people will have their local voice through the police and crime commissioners that they’ve elected to determine their local policing. There will be the new national body, the national crime agency which will deal with serious crime, child exploitation, border crime and economic crime. But amongst all of that, individual officers will have more discretion. They won’t be operating to central government targets, they’ll be doing what local people want in local policing. And I think there’ll be a real – and the College of Policing will bring more professionalism in. So I think it’s an exciting time for policing. I think there’s a very good future ahead. We’ve got the best police officers in the world, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to reform and can’t do better.
AN: Well, let’s look at the police and crime commissioners, because at the heart of this idea – you refer to it as that ‘the public’s priority should be reflected in the police priorities.’ But can you give me some examples of where the police are currently failing to match the people’s priorities?
TM: I think that one of the areas – and this has been shown by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, actually, where there has been a concern for people is in antisocial behaviour and the approach that’s been taken to that. Now, we’ve been changing the approach to that, but there are many people who feel that if only some more could be done about that, for example, then fewer young people might then turn to a wider range of criminal activity or go down that criminal route. So there’s one area I think many people feel that perhaps there’s been a disconnect.
AN: Let’s have a lot of a Scotland’s new Chief Constable, he’s called Stephen House, he spoke to the Sunday Politics. I know the changes don’t affect him, but he had something interesting to say. Let’s just run this part by you to get your reaction.
Stephen House: We won’t be held hostage, as it were, by highly local populist issues at the expense of the sort of things that local populations will never put on their priorities. You will never get a local population saying we want to devote resources to counter-terrorism, it’s not logical that they would. Or organised crime. That would be unusual.
AN: What do you say to that?
TM: Well, I say two things. First of all, there are some aspects of policing, like counter-terrorism, which will be retained as a national responsibility, albeit with units out there in police forces around the country and at regional level. And the National Crime Agency will obviously be working with forces in terms of issues like organised crime. But actually what I’d say on the organised crime bit is this: what matters to people out there is what’s happening on their doorsteps and in their streets, and the drugs that are being sold in their streets. The people who are stealing in order to fund a drug habit are actually the end, the local end of the organised crime.
AN: But that shows you what you’re up against. He uses this phrase, ‘highly local populist issues’. It’s almost a dismissal of these people’s concerns. This view is prevalent through the chief constables. That’s your problem, isn’t it?
TM When we have the police and crime commissioners in place, what you will see is that they will be able to be that voice, talking to the chief constable about what people’s priorities are the local level, and setting the police priorities. Working with the chief constable, who retains –
AN: But they’re not going to like it, are they?
TM: I think – the candidates I’ve spoken to have got a very real understanding of the wide range of issues.
AN: Well, I’m glad you’ve mentioned that because let’s look at some of the manifesto pledges that are being made. Let me just call out some of them here. Here we go. ‘More police on the beat.’ ‘Every reported crime should be attended and investigated.’ Every one. ‘More realistic shift and working patterns for officers.’ I assume to get more on the streets. Are these priorities or are they operational matters?
TM: No, these are about how – an approach that the police should be taking and reflecting the voice of local people and what the local people want. Local people do want to see more police on the streets.
AN: But is that a priority or an operational matter?
TM: Well, it is a priority for the force to be able to get people out there doing the job, officers out there doing the job that people want them to do. How that is then done, of course there are issues there about operational independence. But some of the issues you raised there are already being addressed by some forces.
AN: But if – ‘every crime to be investigated, attended and investigated.’ Is that a priority or is it an operational matter?
TM: That is – it’s perfectly reasonable for a police and crime commissioner to say to a chief constable that they think that every crime should be actually prosecuted.
AN: But is it an operational matter or a priority, because you’ve drawn the distinction?
TM: We’ve said that the police chief constables retain their operational independence, and it is absolutely right that chief constables – it’s the police who decide who to investigate, it’s the police who decide who to arrest. That should not be decided by a politician.
AN: Let’s look at the elections themselves. It’s the first time we’ve had them in this country. They’re only three weeks away. If the turnout is low, and many think it’s going to be very low, will that not affect the legitimacy of the winners?
TM: No, there’s been a lot of speculation about the turnout and how low the turnout’s going to be. We don’t know until it actually happens.
AN: It probably will be low, Home Secretary.
TM: No, there’s two sets of people, if you like, who are making sure that people know about the election. At government level we’ve put advertising out to tell people about the new elections. Obviously neutral, but explaining what this role is and when the elections are taking place. And then obviously around the country candidates are getting out vast amounts of literature. My own party, millions of pieces of literature have already been delivered, getting the message across to people about them. But in terms of a mandate, what I would say to you is this, Andrew, the Police Authorities at the moment have no democratic mandate to do this job of overseeing the police, the police and crime commissioner will for the first time have a democratic mandate from the people to do this.
AN: But in other areas your government does think turnout’s important. Let me just show you what Francis Maude has said. It’s a long quote but it’s a good one. And you’ll see it up on the screen. ‘If they call a strike where only just more than a quarter of those balloted actually bothered to vote,’ this is about industrial strikes, ‘then the pressure to change the law to set some kind of turnout threshold will really become very hard to resist.’ So if turnouts are too low for strikes and you want to act, surely if they’re too low for police commissioners the same principle applies?
TM: We don’t set turnouts for any elections that take place in the country.
AN: But he’s saying you should.
TM: I said any elections that take place in this country. We do see turnout vary. Obviously at local elections turnout can sometimes be low. But I don’t think it’s wise to sit here trying to predict what the turnout for police and crime commissioners will be. They for the first time will have a democratic mandate that does not exist today.
AN: But don’t you have yourselves to blame if there is a low turnout. You decided to hold these elections in November. No prime minister would ever go to the country in November. And the candidate manifestos are only available online, in a country where seven million people don’t have online access.
TM: No, the manifestos are not only available online. It is possible for people to get a printed copy. There’s a phone number that’s being made available if people want to ring up and get a printed copy. AN: Do you think that’s going to happen?
TM: And there is the website.
AN: Have you asked for yours?
TM: And the website is available for people to look at.
AN: Not for seven million.
TM: There are – the government is doing its bit in terms of the advertising campaign about the elections and the importance of the elections. Obviously in each party, and in the Conservatives obviously Grant Shapps, as our party chairman is the campaign chairman for the police and crime commissioner elections, and they’ll be doing, as will every other party, their bit locally to get information out and ensure people know about the elections and go out and vote.
AN: Let’s move on to immigration. You recently told the Sunday Times that the issue of free movement of people in the EU would be part of the government’s review into our relationship with the European Union. Can I just remind you of article – here we are – article 48 of the Treaty of Rome, to which we have signed. ‘Freedom of movement of workers shall be secured within the Community.’ So how would you curtail that freedom?
TM: Well, first of all, Andrew, actually the freedom of movement has been taken beyond what was in the Treaty of Rome. It’s absolutely right that it referred to freedom of movement of workers.
AN: And what would you do?
TM: I’ll come on to that. So it has gone much more widely, it has been interpreted more widely. And there are three things that I would say in relation to what we can do about it. First of all, we are working at the moment with other member states on the abuse of free movement that we see taking place in a number of ways. Things like sham marriages being used to – somebody, for example, from a country outside the European Union using a sham marriage to somebody in one of the European member states to gain access though to a country like the United Kingdom.
AN: How many cases is that?
TM: Well, it’s a growing number of cases.
AN: How many?
TM: And a growing concern from people across the European Union.
AN: How many?
TM: Not just – I don’t have the figure to hand for you today, Andrew, but it is a growing concern among other member states as well. I think we need to look at some of the pull factors that encourage people to want to come here. And then finally, yes, we will look at free movement as part of this – I mean, the term doesn’t often mean a lot to people – the balance of competencies work that the government’s doing is looking across the board and it’s basically saying where does the power lie to make decisions about these particular issues? With us or with the European Union? What are the advantages and disadvantages? And when that work is complete we’ll then be able to look at whether to take that forward in any one of the areas that it covers.
AN: And it’s still government policy and you give a pledge today that immigration will be net below 100,000 by the election?
TM: We are certainly – we are working and our aim is to get it down to those tens of thousands by the time of the election.
AN: Will it be?
TM: Well, I’m not going to predict, but that’s what we’re working for and I think we’re on course. We are seeing, we have seen in the last figures a significant drop in the number of net migrants coming into the United Kingdom. So we are cutting out abuse, we’ve restricted the number of economic – non-EU economic migrants. We’re cutting out abuse across the student visa system, particularly, and we’re having an impact.
AN: All right, let’s move on to the Gary McKinnon case, finally. Have you had an official – let me just show first of all what the Daily Telegraph said – this is the US Attorney General, Mr Eric Holder, he says, ‘we’re finished with Theresa May,’ he says to the US after hacker ruling. Have you had an official complaint from the US government via the US Attorney General about your decision?
TM: I haven’t had a conversation with the US Attorney General yet. I took my decision on the basis of the material that was available to me, as was open to me to do in the requirements.
AN: Have you had formal complaint?
TM: No, I’ve not had a conversation with Eric Holder yet.
AN: Have you had a written complaint?
TM: I’ve not had a written complaint from Eric Holder.
AN: Is it true that you’ve been calling him and he won’t return your calls?
TM: No, we’ve been arranging to set up a call. We haven’t yet spoken. I expect that we will be speaking about this issue. I spoke to the US Ambassador here in the United Kingdom on the day that the decision was made.
AN: Hasn’t he got a right to be angry, because you wrote to the US in July to say there were no legal or medical grounds to stop the extradition? Can you confirm that you sent that letter?
TM: No, there is – there has been quite a bit in the press about what might or might not have been said. There were not categorical statements have been of that sort.
AN: What did that letter say?
TM: The decision was open to me to take up until the point at which the court required me to take that decision, which was October 16th. I took the decision on the material that was available to me. Remember, Andrew, there was evidence coming in through until relatively soon before I actually took that decision.
AN: I understand the grounds on which you took the decision, Home Secretary, I’m not challenging that. It was your decision. But in July, when you did write, did you give indications that there were no legal or medical grounds to stop the extradition?
TM: It has always been understood that the decision was mine to take finally, on all the material that was available, up to the point at which I took that decision. And that was the basis on which I took the decision.
AN: I mean, something has clearly happened, there’s something that you or someone else in the British government told the Americans, to explain why they’re so angry. I mean, senior US officials in Washington are now saying that your relations, yours, not the government’s, your relations with the Obama administration are finished.
TM: We have a strong and secure relationship with the United States across a range of issues.
TM: I’ll come onto that. I’ll give you an example of it. We have a strong and secure relationship with the United States administration across a whole range of issues. On national security matters, on extradition, the special relationship generally. But just to give you an example: last Thursday, two days after the decision, I had a very constructive meeting with the head of – the director of Customs Immigration Enforcement in the United States talking about how we can carry on and indeed build on our working relationship to the benefit of both sides. What is absolutely clear is that we have, with the US, an extradition treaty which is important, I believe it is an important treaty, for both sides, the United States and the United Kingdom. It is a treaty that I believe is balanced and we work on that basis. We want to see people being extradited both to the United States, as we have seen recently with Abu Hamza, Christopher Tappin.
AN: Of course. The US Attorney General is quoted as saying he feels, quote, ‘completely screwed,’ by you. What do you say to that?
TM: Well, I will be having a conversation with him and we will discuss this matter. I’ve set out the basis of –
AN: It sounds like it’s going to be an interesting conversation.
TM: But I think, as I say, the extradition treaty generally – when I announced the decision on Gary McKinnon I also did make some announcements about the process here of an extradition. That treaty is important because we don’t want criminals just to hide behind borders.
AN: Wasn’t it a bit hypocritical, maybe even inconsistent, to base your decision – you refused extradition on the basis of Labour’s Human Rights Act that you want to repeal?
TM: Well, first of all it is – the situation exists at the moment that it is possible for a secretary of state to refuse on human rights grounds. Now, in future I actually think it is right that that decision is not with the secretary of state, but it is for the courts. And we will be bringing that change through into legislation.
AN: Do you see yourself as leader of the Conservative Party one day, Mrs May?
TM: We’ve got a first class leader at the moment. David Cameron is dealing with the issues that he was left by the last government very well indeed.
AN: But you don’t rule it out, I think.
TM: As I said, we’ve got a first class leader and a first class prime minister.
AN: Home Secretary, thank you for being with us this morning.Tagged in: theresa may
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