24/02/2018 Dateline London


24/02/2018

Foreign correspondents currently posted to London look at events in the UK through outsiders' eyes, and at how the issues of the week are being tackled around the world.


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Transcript


LineFromTo

Hello and a very warm

welcome to Dateline London.

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I'm Carrie Gracie.

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This week we look at the continuing

carnage in Syria, and discuss

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the latest twists in

the Brexit debate.

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My guests this week:

The conservative political

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commentator Alex Deane,

Marc Roche of Le Point,

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the American writer

and broadcaster Jeffrey Kofman,

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and the columnist for the Gulf based

newspaper The National,

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and Arab Weekly

Rashmee Roshann Lall.

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Barrel bombs, air strikes

and shelling by Syrian government

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forces have killed nearly 500 people

this week, many of them children.

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Eastern Ghouta the beseiged area

on the edge of the Syrian capital

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Damascus, has been described

as "Hell on Earth".

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The UN has

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called for a cease fire.

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Rashmee, you've been following this

nightmare, do you see an end

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to the suffering of people in Syria?

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I think the response to that

question should certainly not to be

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along the United Nations children's

fund issued. Its institutional heart

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was so heavy that it could not

describe the suffering of the people

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of eastern Ghouta, and it simply

issued a bank statements, saying the

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truth is beyond language, there is

nothing further to say. -- a blank

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statement. I would say, one has two

recognise words can have the quality

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of deeds. Let's look at the facts,

let's use words to do that. The

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facts on the ground art, Syrian's

President Bashar al-Assad, as long

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as he checks in with Moscow, he can

pretty much do what ever he wants in

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the country. As long as he has

robust foreign support. There has

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been a stand-off with the UN with

much of the world trying desperately

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to get this very small concession

which is a humanitarian halt to the

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siege and staff strike strategies

that Assad is using. They can't do

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it because the Russians are stopping

it. The facts on the ground are that

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the Syrian regime is there, it's not

going away, and one finds it's very

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hard to understand the rational

basis of what some trumped

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administration officials describe as

a return of the Syrian state, not

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return of the Syrian regime, kind of

approach. They are not going

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anywhere, it can end if we recognise

the facts on the ground.

You are a

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North American, Jeffrey, what's your

view on the Trump administration

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recognising facts on the ground?

We

saw a year ago in April when the

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sarin gas was used, that was the red

line in the sand, and to Trump's

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credit he actually responded. The

air strikes destroyed 20% of the

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Syrian air force. He has calculated

that is a red line, Assad, I can do

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chlorine, these huge bombs, all

sorts of carnage. But if I don't do

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chemical warfare per se, I can get

away with it. That is what has

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happened. This will not be solved

with American leadership. America is

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in the midst of a nervous breakdown,

it is to internal looking right now

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to care about this. I despair

because I don't see how this will

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work. Russia is playing chess, the

rest of the world is playing

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checkers. Of course we can hope and

in some way there must be a

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solution, I struggled to see where

it is.

France, long experienced in

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the Middle East, the French pushing

hard for that UN Security Council

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resolution. Is there a game of chess

that can be turned into checkers or

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vice versa?

The problem is that in

the Security Council, Russia who has

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a veto and is a prominent member,

who knows very well the UN because

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of the court, is making the

situation impossible. The only hope

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with America out of the game is

France. And Britain. They have one

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moment they can use against the

Assad regime. It's Russia. It's

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hardening the sanctions, and if you

think that there are lots of Putin's

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friends who have property in

Britain, property in France and on

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the Cote d'Azur, him and each

suitable club, the owner is close,

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they could seize all this. -- the

Chelsea football club. But Britain

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and France love Russian money so

they would be any help. I am at

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least on a moral issue, France and

Britain, they are showing the way.

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It's no accident all of us have

mentioned Russia and the involvement

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in the Assad regime. Long gone are

the days when President Obama mocked

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Mitt Romney for calling Russia the

threat of the future. Here I think

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criticism of Russia is very well

founded. As well as Russia's formal

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forces on the ground in Syria, which

are significant, we see the

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operation of companies like Wagner

PMC, Private military companies,

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mercenaries, on the ground embedded

in Assad's forces, fighting the

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Kurdish anti-Assad forces. Why this

matters so much, fighting against

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the Americans directly, we are

seeing Russians albeit not in

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Russian uniform but it seems with

the blessing of the Kremlin in

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operation of the 2500 of them,

fighting alongside Assad's forces

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directly against Americans. It's an

incredibly dangerous situation, so

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it's not just about what happens in

Syria to solve it, also the

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potential risk of Americans and

Russians facing directly. Earlier

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this month we saw a confrontation

between Russian and American forces

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in which the western side claims 100

Russians died, the Kremlin omits

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several dozen did. We get dragged

into a conflict in a way we saw for

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much of the 20th century, bad news.

I think we must understand that for

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Russia there is a lot at stake here.

This is Syria, strategically so

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important. The only Russian

Mediterranean -based is there, they

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want to keep their foothold

geopolitically in this area. The US

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is focused elsewhere.

Presumably for

the Russians it stands to reason

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that they want to give their Syrian

allies time to finish off the rebels

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on the edge of Damascus.

There are a

lots of arguments that say we should

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prevent the collapse of the Syrian

state. Libya is not a shining

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template, nobody wants to go there.

This is not about rewarding bad

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behaviour or giving carte blanche to

callous leaders, it is about if we

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care about the suffering of the

Syrian people, we want it to stop.

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The trouble is, Mark's point was the

French and British responsibility

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applies. We were for and against

Assad, now we are not sure. Our

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foreign policy seems to be that he

should go but on balance we would

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rather the state did not collapse. A

contradiction.

The sanctions, they

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cannot put up with more sanctions.

The economy is doing badly.

Surely

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the her point is we need to let the

Syrian people out of this misery and

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do I understand correctly, you are

basically saying at some point, the

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Syrian government should be

assisting in finishing this in as

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civil a way as possible?

Basically

what we are understanding is there

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maybe a arrangement with Mr Assad,

we may talk about that at some

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point, he has it. Maybe because the

Russians have him by the short and

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Curly is, let the situation gets to

there. If people can help, help. If

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not, get the message and Get Out.

You bring up Libya and I covered

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Libya for ABC News. The failed state

solution is one we all fear now. And

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rack very much is like that as well.

What I worry about that is it's

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easier to let things bump along and

let the people of Syria suffer

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horrendously manages to find a

long-term solution. Particularly in

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today's world where you can talk

about this concept of empathy, we as

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consumers of media in the west are

so beaten down by the imagery, as I

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was preparing for this and reviewing

some of the footage last night it's

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really hard to watch. If you go to

the BBC website, it's much easier to

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go to some list article on bus speed

than to look at these children

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suffering.

Assad is a war criminal.

He should not be allowed to do what

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he is doing.

Who is taking the

leadership to say that? We are

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sitting in London, where is the

outrage from Westminster, where is

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Boris Johnson on this?

Fatigue.

More

to the point, who can.?

The

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Russians.

-- who can enforce that?

Can I bring up the Koran?

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-- can I bring up Iran? That is

another question.

That is in a way

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balanced because Israel and Iran

balance each other, they are not

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really the main proponent, it's

Russia. Without the Russian air

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force, Assad is dead. It is Russia

we should target, Iran in a way has

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his brother, their side to the

story.

What do you think about the

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question of Boris Johnson. Much

distracted about events with Brexit.

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I think there is a significant role

for our country and this discussion,

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a moral responsibility given our

history and heritage in that region.

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I do think we should not overstep

our bounds. If we are going to act

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in this environment, if you break

it, you own it. If we intervene

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significantly and if Assad were to

go as a result, two big ifs, who

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goes in his place? What is our

responsibility for popping up that

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regime? The pragmatic answer is that

this terrible person running his

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country is better rather than

propping up a new regime for which

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we back of the responsibility that

cannot go well.

War criminals

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sometimes have to be tolerated?

Gas.

And leaders sometimes had to stay in

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office.

He is a war criminal, not a

bad leader.

What about the UN? We

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had the French ambassador talking

about this being a key credibility

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moments, not just the graveyard for

many Syrians but it also should not

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just be the graveyard for the UN

Security Council.

Is it is now 11

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times Russia has blocked the

resolutions on this? There is a

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paralysis here, the Russian agenda

and the rest of the world's agenda

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are in conflict. The structure of

the UN is now paralysed and the

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credibility very much at stake.

Basically every major international

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issue like this has failed to be

resolved because of the kinds of

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power imbalances. In the end we form

these so-called coalitions of the

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willing and if something will happen

here, that's where it would be.

The

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UN is doing a terrific job, a very

good job with the 5 million

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refugees.

It's good for other

things.

We must move on but a yes,

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no answer. If there were listeners

or viewers to this programme in

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Eastern Ghouta today, yes or no, is

there any hope for them in the near

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future to an end of the air strikes

and the siege they are living under?

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No. There is always hope.

I refuse

to say there isn't.

I don't see it

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but I want to believe it.

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One of the biggest questions is

Brexit.

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Ambitious managed divergence.

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That is the expression the British

Prime Minister Theresa May

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and her senior ministers came up

with at a summit this week

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to describe their vision

of Britain's future relationship

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with the European Union.

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The president of the European

Council called it pure illusion.

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On Monday the Labour leader

Jeremy Corbyn will set

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out his alternative.

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Alex, where does ambitious managed

divergence stand today?

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Our Prime Minister with the office

comes a very nice country manor

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house, and she went with ten of her

senior ministers, her Brexit War

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Cabinet, to discuss what happens

next. There was some agreement

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amongst those people, not least in

mutual recognition of goods amongst

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us and the EU. That matters because

the Conservative Party has not been

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entirely united on questions about

future relationships with the EU.

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You are right, the next step is what

happens domestically in the UK

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between the government and the

opposition. Jeremy Corbyn's position

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on this, perversely, given that he's

not in government will be quite

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decisive for the mid-stage we are

now looking at. He must decide, I'm

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amazed he has pulled off this trick

of not really showing his hand, is

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he going to come out in favour of us

remaining in the customs union or a

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customs union, and if so, will he

take the Labour Party with him to

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vote against the government?

And the

answer?

I think he won't. Putting

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your colours to the mast like that

undermines him with many Labour

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voters who voted to leave the

European Union, and makes a start

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position between him and the

government with the government

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saying we are trying to implement

the largest baby ever had in our

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country and you are seeking to

stymie it. Putting aside principles,

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the practical political question is,

could he defeat the government? That

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I don't know. If you stood up for

the customs union, some Conservative

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MPs would vote with him.

We will

come back to that. I want to go back

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to that checkers moments, the kind

of, some called it a fudge, others

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called it ambitious, the Prime

Minister playing a blinder. As

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someone not in the entrails of

Brexit everyday, do you feel you

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watch that episode and you now

understood where the government

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stands on Brexit?

I am a political

junkie so I do understand it but for

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much of the world, if you compile

the definitive Brexit dictionary

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after all this is over much after

March 2019, there will be these key

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phrases, manage divergences, the

vassal state, cake and eat it

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philosophy. The three baskets

approach. All of it goes on and on.

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Basically, as one can understand it,

clearly, the EU keeps expressing

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great surprise and the world DeMent

at the British position. It's always

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been clear.

Its posture.

The British

want everything. They have said it

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over and over. Which part of that

event not understand? Whether it is

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unattainable or not.

We have already

heard the president of the European

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Council is a pure illusion, is there

a route by which the UK can win all

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gain no pain?

No, because you cannot

cherry pick the single market or the

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custom union, you are in or you are

out. The checkers compromise is

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purely for internal, because as far

as the 27 are concerned, they will

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refuse it.

It's a fudge?

Yes, a

domestic fudge. You have on one side

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a very divided UK Government, who is

coming now with this cherry picking

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off, what they want. On the other

side, which you forget, the 27 are

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all united. They all know what they

to do, Britain is isolated, Britain

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has absolutely no cards.

Let's just

checked...

I just want a reality

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check. This is now more than a year

and a half into this discussion, we

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are approaching a year before the

divorce, whatever you want to call

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it, that's the polite word.

An open

marriage!

We are still talking about

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general terms and concepts. We have

moved from Brexit meaning Brexit to

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these new terms that you rhyme off,

yet we are not getting into

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specifics. It just shows that

Theresa May as you say has this

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impossible balancing act within her

party. The country does not know

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where it's going. We should be

concerned about the lack of

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leadership.

There was an agreement

in phase one. Good. There will be an

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agreement on phase two, which will

be bad for Britain. It is moving on.

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The trade now is the most important

thing. Again, Britain is isolated in

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trade, the illusions of grandeur

that they can get there on their

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own, it's a medium-sized country

facing 27.

This is a negotiation in

0:18:230:18:30

which people are taking postures.

The peculiar thing, I am not saying

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you were doing this, but the

peculiar thing in our country, we

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look at what the government does and

pick it apart, then we look at what

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the EU says, equally posturing on

their side, and say here is the

0:18:410:18:46

Gospel handed down to us by these

leaders of the EU. Actually a lot of

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what's being said publicly is hot

air in preparation for real hard

0:18:500:18:55

negotiation, bad news for viewers

who want to get this over and done

0:18:550:18:58

with. It would be concluded until Q1

next year.

I wanted to point out the

0:18:580:19:04

EU, the United position is likely to

splinter and has already.

Why? It

0:19:040:19:09

hasn't. 27...

Because the first post

Brexit budget of 2021 is starting to

0:19:090:19:16

be discussed. We will see it in May,

there are significant differences

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are merging and more will emerge

over trying to plug that big hole,

0:19:200:19:24

10 billion euros.

That is something

the UK can take advantage of?

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Indeed, one hopes they can. In the

security Corporation field. The

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Europeans must spend more on

security.

0:19:370:19:41

-- security cooperation. No one

knows what it will look like,

0:19:410:19:44

perhaps not even Alex.

The important

thing is not the security, we all

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agreed. The Brits need Europe. The

Canada thing, this delusion that the

0:19:490:19:56

UK will get Canada plus plus, plus.

The Canada deal took seven years.

0:19:560:20:04

Alex is saying that's a posture.

You

know very well it does not include

0:20:040:20:10

service, financial service.

The

Canadian deal is not useless. More

0:20:100:20:17

over, the average trade deal takes

two or less and you must bear in

0:20:170:20:21

mind the importance attached to a

trade deal between us and the EU if

0:20:210:20:24

there is to be one given we are each

other's largest trading partners.

0:20:240:20:28

This is not like forming a deal with

another standard donation, it's not

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like forming a deal with another

third nation, the day we leave we

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will be Europe's largest trading

partner with who we operate a

0:20:370:20:40

massive trading surplus. That point

about splintering as fair, some

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countries will want things more than

others and the closer you get to the

0:20:470:20:49

finish line, the more...

This is a

particularly interesting week.

0:20:490:20:56

Monday, we have Jeremy Corbyn

speaking. Where Alex began, it's

0:20:560:21:03

critical we watch what happens

Monday. Corbyn who has been defined

0:21:030:21:07

as an ideologue has the potential to

pitted to being a pragmatist on

0:21:070:21:11

Monday, and potentially we talk

about chess and checkers, he could

0:21:110:21:14

play a really interesting chess

game. If he could force the

0:21:140:21:21

government's hand there is a

scenario that is not outrageous that

0:21:210:21:24

says he could force an election

sometime this year.

Walk us through

0:21:240:21:29

these steps, by peeling off rebels?

By peeling off government rebels, by

0:21:290:21:34

saying Labour is now pro-customs

union, or for a soft Brexit. That

0:21:340:21:40

would potentially bring it more to

where the Lib Dems fit in.

Do you

0:21:400:21:44

think Corbyn will do that?

I put my

crystal ball away, I have been so

0:21:440:21:50

wrong at this desk so many times. I

think we should watch and see. Then

0:21:500:21:55

you have Theresa May scheduled to

speak Friday to give her position,

0:21:550:21:58

task has already said she is

delusional. This is a critical week.

0:21:580:22:07

What kind of partner pre-emptively

slacks off the thing being said by

0:22:070:22:10

the person they are supposed to be

negotiating with?

You want to cherry

0:22:100:22:14

pick again.

U2 have been round that

argument. I want to hear what you

0:22:140:22:19

have to say about that dilemma.

I

hope he comes down to stay in the

0:22:190:22:25

customs union and that this

government, useless government, very

0:22:250:22:31

useless government, as far as

negotiation is concerned. They will

0:22:310:22:35

fall because at the end of the day

the EU is faced with a government

0:22:350:22:41

which is not knowing what it wants,

it is divided, you need a strong...

0:22:410:22:46

That is your hope for you think that

will happen?

I think that Corbyn

0:22:460:22:51

will go for the customs union.

I

think the Labour leader will go for

0:22:510:22:58

a customs union. I think it's all

about jobs and the Shadow Foreign

0:22:580:23:04

Secretary saying, it's the right

thing to think.

Not only does it put

0:23:040:23:10

the debate in a new existential one

for the challenge to the government

0:23:100:23:16

in the house in a real way, then

Tory rebels must think, what do I do

0:23:160:23:20

now, do I vote with the Labour Party

in favour of a customs union, but I

0:23:200:23:24

could bring down the government?

They must decide whether they are a

0:23:240:23:28

Remainer before they are a Tory.

I

think many will decide they are a

0:23:280:23:33

Tory before they are a Remainer. If

Corbyn does that, the other domestic

0:23:330:23:37

thing to think about is he crushes

the Liberal Democrats, which is a

0:23:370:23:42

long-term Labour Party aim and with

which I don't entirely lack

0:23:420:23:44

sympathy.

He crushes them because?

They have been the pro-European

0:23:440:23:52

party but if Labour is pro-European

and laugh and has the potential of

0:23:520:23:56

getting into government, they hoover

up lots of those Lib Dem votes. The

0:23:560:24:00

Lib Dems have been fishing for a

long time in the politics of the

0:24:000:24:04

left-wing, so if Labour is both and

pro-EU...

They must watch what

0:24:040:24:09

happens on Monday. They do not have

an opportunity, they are not in the

0:24:090:24:14

equation. I think that Corbyn can

really change the course of this

0:24:140:24:21

debate. The question is whether he

has the stomach to do it.

You ask

0:24:210:24:29

what is the Lib Dem possibilities, I

0:24:290:24:32

think constructive dispersal.

LAUGHTER

I am coming up with more

0:24:320:24:38

terms!

More vocab.

It does not

matter what happens to the Lib Dems.

0:24:380:24:44

It matters that Europe is going

forward. There is the budget but

0:24:440:24:49

also this Emmanuel Macron idea and

phenomenon. For me, British policy,

0:24:490:24:56

there is no leader, there is no

Macron, while Europe has this Macron

0:24:560:25:01

who wants to create several state

Europe.

If you are right and things

0:25:010:25:07

are so unlikely to work out in a

dialogue with the EU, which may be

0:25:070:25:12

the case, then all the more do we

need to look to our relationships

0:25:120:25:15

with the rest of the world and build

trade deals with them. Like it or

0:25:150:25:19

not, we are leaving the EU. We must

accept that reality.

With no

0:25:190:25:25

strings?!

We must close, I'm sorry

to all of you. Thank you for coming

0:25:250:25:32

in.

0:25:320:25:35

That's all we have

time for this week -

0:25:350:25:37

do join us again next week same time

same place.But for now,

0:25:370:25:40

thank you for watching and goodbye

0:25:400:25:42

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