13/12/2017 Newsnight


13/12/2017

In-depth investigation and analysis of the stories behind the day's headlines with Evan Davis.


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Transcript


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It was going so well

for the Prime Minister, then this.

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The ayes to the right, 309.

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The noes to the left, 305.

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CHEERING.

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A vote on a vote.

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And it didn't go

the government's way.

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Hours before a Brussels summit

that is supposed to ease

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Brexit talks through to part two,

Tory rebels tonight managed

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to force the government to give MPs

a meaningful vote on Brexit,

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after a fractious debate that

exposed division and distrust

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within the Conservatives.

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Clause nine is not about

implementing leaving the European

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Union.

Yes, it is. Read it. And sit

down.

A parliamentary defeat for the

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Prime Minister.

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A parliamentary defeat

for the Prime Minister.

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A humiliating setback

for the government -

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but what might it change?

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The man who used to run MI6

gives us his first ever

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broadcast interview,

with a surprising take on terror.

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You know we need to keep

a sense of proportion

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about what we are dealing with.

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I mean I don't think terrorism

in its current form presents

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a systemic threat to the nation.

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A giant mouse and a shrinking mogul

- Rupert Murdoch gets ready

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to downsize his empire.

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What does Disney's expected takeover

for fox mean for the media, and for

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Sky News?

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Sky News?

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And we know something

went wrong with building

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regulations at Grenfell -

now Chris Cook reports on concerns

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over the fire safety of furniture.

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Hello.

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Well, after a run of good headlines,

and just hours before she travels

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to the European Council in Brussels,

the Prime Minister suffered

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her first proper defeat

of this parliament tonight.

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A vote on Amendment 7

to the EU Withdrawal Bill,

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giving MPs the power to vote

on the withdrawal deal

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when it is ready.

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The government says that could

derail a smooth and timely Brexit,

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but it was a sign of how finely

divided parliament is, the MPs

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split almost down the middle.

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But also a sign that

the Conservative party

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has enough rebels -

11 this evening - to obstruct

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the government's plans.

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What a day it was in the Commons.

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Would she be so good as to accept

the right honourable and learn a

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gentleman's Amendment seven in the

spirit of unity for everybody here

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and in the country?

I find it

entertaining that somebody who

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criticise me for speaking my mind on

this matter are individuals who

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appear to have exercised the luxury

of rebellion on many occasions.

The

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idea that somehow undermined the

referendum decision is just a load

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of rubbish.

She talked about a delay

of a couple of months. But if the

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treaty is not right in the eyes of

this parliament than a couple of

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months could turn into a couple of

years and indeed some cases people

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would like it to be a couple of

decades.

The ayes to the right 309,

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the noes to the left 305.

Parliament

has asserted itself, the Prime

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Minister tried a power grab, tried

to push through a bill without

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proper Parliamentary scrutiny.

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proper Parliamentary scrutiny.

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The vote came after

seven this evening.

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One of the rebels, Stephen Hammond

had been sacked from his job as

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vice-chair of the Conservative

Party. Dominic Greene is a former

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attorney general, whose amendment it

was. Bernard Jenkin is a Brexit

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supporting colleague of his from the

backbenches.

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backbenches.

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Our political editor,

Nick Watt, is with me.

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It was quite a moment. Quite a cock

up somewhere in the way the

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government manage the whole

business.

There are a lot ministers

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been very critical of their own

government this evening. One said we

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had very clumsy and stupid, late

concessions by the government.

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Another said the whips should have

known how very close this was. A lot

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of criticism tonight of the Chief

Whip Julian Smith. One Cabinet

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minister said, rule number one for a

Chief Whip is no how to count.

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Another one told Julian Smith

earlier this week, you are going to

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lose this vote unless you make major

concessions ahead of the vote. It is

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important to say this is the second

slip up in two weeks by Julian

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Smith. A lot of people are saying

that had his predecessor Gavin

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Williams been in place who had close

contacts with the DUP, the Prime

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Minister would not have been so

exposed to that meeting in Brussels

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last Monday.

For the people who

wanted to remain, what is their take

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on how important this is?

I saw one

remain minister this evening who I

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could say had at best crocodile

tears. Another figure said this is a

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very significant moment. This person

said to me, this is the canary in

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the coal mine. This is the moment

when the government needs to accept

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there is no majority in this

Parliament for a hard Brexit. There

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is no majority in this Parliament

for no Deal Brexit and the

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government should now be working

with the majority in parliament, not

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one side. And there is a big vote

next week and the government will

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seek to put on the face of the bill

the date of Brexit, the 29th of

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March, 2019.

There was a lot of

injured Tory party hostility today,

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there was not a love in the room

between the two sides. A lot of

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anger with the rebels.

There is fury

within government with Dominic

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Grieve. I spoke to one minister at

the heart of this or said, Dominic

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Grieve will field the chilling

hangover of what he has done and

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what he has done is he has weakened

the Prime Minister on the eve of the

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European Council in Brussels

tomorrow. This minister said, there

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are two options. One, it is not

worth the candle, let's just the

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amendment passed. The second option

is to say to Dominic Grieve, you

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said earlier if you're amendment was

accepted, you would agree to a

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negotiation at the report stage

about a compromise in which both

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sides can be happy, presumably your

offer still stands.

Let's talk to my

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political guests. Dominic Grieve has

been talked about whilst sitting

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there very patiently. The knives are

pretty much out for you, aren't

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they?

I doubt it, I am not concerned

about knives be out for me. I am in

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parliament to do my duty by my

constituents and for my country.

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Knives can be anywhere, I will not

be bothered by that in any way at

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all. What I am is intent on trying

to support the government in doing

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the right thing and the right thing

is carrying out Brexit in an

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orderly, sensible way which has a

proper process to it and which

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enables the right decisions to be

made at the right time. That is what

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I will continue to do. I am sorry to

hear if colleagues think so ill of

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me. But it is not going to affect

what I do one bit.

You will vote

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next week against this idea of

having a fixed legal date for

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Brexit?

I hope it will not be

necessary. I am sure the government

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will be defeated and I have no

desire to defeat the government for

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a second time. I have been in

parliament for 20 years and apart

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from HS2 I have not rebelled before.

Are you open to negotiation and

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compromise on the way the issue of

the votes are handle?

My whole life

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is negotiation. I tabled these

amendments over a month ago, I have

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had a very sensible dialogue with

government ministers about what

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their purposes, sometimes probing,

sometimes teasing out, sometimes

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pointing out flaws. So far until

this evening we had always managed

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sensible outcomes which improved

legislation and kept everybody

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broadly happy. I am sorry the

negotiations foundered, it was a

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spectacular foundering, I cannot

deny that. There appears to have

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been a complete breakdown within

government as to how to answer

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perfectly legitimate points which is

worrying, but people will learn from

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experience. I also noted I have

colleagues who work pro-Brexit and

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much more supportive of the

government who were pointed out that

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the legislation was in a very bad

condition and could not be allowed

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to stay in the condition it was in.

You learned the Brexiteers and the

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government think all of this is a

back door way of giving the MPs a

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chance to impose a soft Brexit,

something closer to Norway, if the

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government comes back with something

closer to Canada. That is possible

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because you now have that veto power

at a late stage in the process.

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Correct or not? The exact terms of

Brexit are matter for negotiation

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for the government. It is right that

I will not have the closing down of

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options, I have said that on many

occasions. The impression we have

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had is of options being closed down

and that is not acceptable.

Does

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this make a soft Brexit more likely?

Is it meaningful in that sense?

You

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may be misreading this. This bill is

about process, not outcome. It is

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true that process matters, but this

bill is about how you carry out a

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process rather than the negotiation

itself. I have been studious in not

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trying to interfere with the

government's negotiating strategy. I

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have hardly asked a question because

I think Parliament's ability to

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interfere with a negotiating

strategy is limited. But I am of the

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view that it is in the country's

interest that we keep a close

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relationship with the EU or suffer

serious consequences. I would like

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the Brexit that minimises risk and

maximises opportunity.

Let me turn

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to Bernard Jenkin. I know you do not

want to have an on-air, blue on blue

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fight here in the studio. Do you

think this gives MPs some back door

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away of imposing a softer version of

Brexit?

Obviously some people think

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it does, but it does not change the

price of fish very much. The

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government has been frank that this

is only about how you implement the

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withdrawal.

If it does not change

the direction of things, what is the

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problem?

What it means is because

these powers will now not be

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available to the government to use

until another act of Parliament has

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been passed, it may mean that we

have to pass an extra act of

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Parliament very late in the day at

the very top speed and I do not

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think that is necessarily the better

outcome. But it is life. The problem

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is the act of Parliament that

implements the withdrawal agreement

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may not finished going through

Parliament until after we have left.

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It is all very complicated and very

obscure. What was sad was that

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however clumsily, the government was

offering concessions at the last

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minute and some of the rebels were

just shouting, too late, too late,

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which sounded a little petulant.

How

many times have you voted against

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the Conservatives? Probably scores

of times. Is it not rich to be

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haranguing the people who voted

against the government?

I was not

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haranguing anybody today, I was

engaging in honest debate.

You

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disagree with Nadine Dorries who

said there should be deselected and

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should never be allowed to stand

again?

Yes, I do, that is not very

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helpful. I rebelled to try and get a

referendum. I rebelled years ago on

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the martial treaty when they refuse

to have a referendum. I rebelled

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when powers were being taken away

from Parliament did not even touch

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the ground when legislation was

being made in this country. All of

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these powers are commendable and

controllable by Parliament and

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ultimately they are only temporary.

We have had a referendum. If the

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majority of MPs took the view they

wanted a softer Brexit than the one

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currently being talked about, is it

legitimate for them to impose that

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on the government if some

Parliamentary way of doing that can

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be found?

Is that legitimate? Nearly

everybody voted for Article 50. The

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reality is you try to negotiate the

withdrawal agreement and a free

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trade agreement, but if an

acceptable arrangement does not

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emerge, you are still leaving. I

personally do not want that, I hope

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we get the agreement. Some people

are trying to reverse... We are

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going to hear a new phrase.

Brexinos, where we have all the

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regulations impose upon us and we do

not have the freedom to do trade

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deals with other countries. Some

people say it is a soft Brexit and

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Theresa May has called it a

non-Brexit.

We have to leave it

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there.

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If you ever want to meet

someone who personifies

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the British establishment,

you won't do better

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than an encounter

with Sir Richard Dearlove.

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He may have a low personal profile,

but he had a long career

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in the intelligence services

and was put in charge of MI6

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for five years under Tony Blair.

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That makes him M if you like your

Bond movies, although actually

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they used the letter C

for the boss in real life.

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In his time at MI6 in its famous

building on the South bank

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of the Thames he had to handle 9/11,

the build-up to the war in Iraq,

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and the controversy over

the so-called dodgy dossier

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that exaggerated the certainty

of the intelligence

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for Iraq having WMD.

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He was actually criticised

in the Chilcott report for adding

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weight to a report that had not

been properly evaluated.

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He went on to be on a master

of a Cambridge college,

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so in short he is the kind of man

you might either see as a public

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servant who has helped

keep the country secure,

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or as part of a deep state that has

been getting everything wrong.

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But while Sir Richard

is an establishment insider,

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he has taken a different view

from most of his counterparts

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on Brexit - he's in favour.

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He's just written an open letter

to President Macron in France,

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explaining why it's in the EU's

interest to let us go, so the 27 can

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get on with the integration

they need without us

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getting in the way.

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Being a former head of MI6,

he's kept away from

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broadcast interviews.

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But given where we are

with Brexit, he agreed

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to his first one with Newsnight.

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I asked him why you thought Brexit

was a good idea. -- why he thought.

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I am looking more generally I think

than the average person at Europe.

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We have always been skin deep

members of the European Union.

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We have believed in

a shallow political union.

0:15:530:15:57

Quite honestly if Macron

is determined to integrate Europe

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politically as he states, he really

does not want us to be part of it

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because we would be very effective

in stopping his progress.

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So what I am arguing

is that we are offering

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continental Europe and opportunity.

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We can be very supportive

of a united Continental

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Europe which will serve

our interests closely.

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There is no disaster

about the UK returning to

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a mid Atlantic position which is

the one that we have

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traditionally occupied.

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You have used a very interesting

phrase, we can go back

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to our mid Atlantic position.

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A lot of people would

say, yes, the mid

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Atlantic position is lovely,

except with time as president.

0:16:410:16:47

-- with Trump as president.

0:16:470:16:48

Something really big has

changed, the US is no

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longer what it was.

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Trump is president,

and that is a large element of

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unpredictability.

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Trump is only going to

be there probably for

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another three years.

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I think we need to

think more broadly.

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We have a very close

relationship with the

0:17:010:17:08

United States, not only in defence

and security terms, but also in

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trading terms.

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I mean, I think I could make

a convincing argument

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that in some respects Trump's

administration, in terms of the

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relations with the UK,

have not been altogether

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as difficult as Obama.

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Well, that's an interesting

one, isn't it?

0:17:270:17:33

Obama was closer to the centre

of the values of the UK, probably.

0:17:330:17:36

Yes, certainly in

value terms, I agree.

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Trump has been unreliable

as well, hasn't he?

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I'm thinking particularly

on intelligence, your old industry.

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After the Manchester bombing, photos

were sent to American intelligence

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and they appeared in

the New York Times.

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He has done some unpredictable

things, but I don't

0:17:520:17:54

think you should necessarily judge

the intelligence relationship in

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terms of Trump's Tweets.

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Do think they are a reliable

ally for intelligence

0:18:010:18:03

purposes at the moment?

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I think there are still a very

reliable ally for intelligence

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purposes, and I'm sure if you asked

that question of the head of CIA he

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would give you a very

positive and true indeed.

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Do you believe the Christopher

Steele dossier on Trump?

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This was the document

which said some salacious...

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I'm not going to get into that.

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But you knew Christopher Steele.

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I won't confirm or deny

that I knew Christopher.

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I think that there is probably some

credibility to the content.

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I wouldn't put it any more

forcefully than that.

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The other superpower,

or would be superpower

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that Brexit affects our relationship

with, is Russia, isn't it?

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And many people are

worried that what Brexit

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is doing is undermining

the cohesiveness of Europe.

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In offering a forceful counterweight

to Russian mischief.

0:18:590:19:07

Well, I disagree with you saying

that the EU necessarily

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offers that counterweight.

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The EU doesn't have

the military capability

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or power to balance Russia.

0:19:160:19:24

And what's interesting

is we have seen a

0:19:240:19:29

considerable revival of a Nato.

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A revival in Nato?

0:19:300:19:31

Well, yes.

0:19:310:19:34

I thought of Trump was

busy questioning it.

0:19:340:19:36

He did question it.

0:19:360:19:39

But I think his recent statements

show actually that the American

0:19:390:19:45

commitment to Nato is not

fundamentally in question.

0:19:450:19:50

And I think that one

of the ancillaries of

0:19:500:19:52

Brexit should be an increase

in our defence spending.

0:19:520:19:56

On Russia, some have

argued that basically they

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interfered in the Brexit referendum

because they felt that it was in

0:20:000:20:08

their interests for

Britain to vote out.

0:20:080:20:10

Are you convinced

by those arguments?

0:20:100:20:11

No, not at all.

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I mean, I don't think,

I've not seen anything

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that can convince me

at all that the Russians intervened

0:20:150:20:18

significantly in the Brexit

referendum.

0:20:180:20:21

But they might have

intervened in the US?

0:20:210:20:24

I don't think there's

any question they got

0:20:240:20:26

involved in the US election.

0:20:260:20:30

I think probably on

Putin's part that was

0:20:300:20:31

a misjudgement.

0:20:310:20:34

OK, so I sort of understand

the geography of your argument.

0:20:340:20:37

On terror, you said it's

containable and

0:20:370:20:39

ultimately manageable.

0:20:390:20:47

Now is that what marks you out

from your successors?

0:20:470:20:50

I believe strongly,

personally, in the

0:20:500:20:52

issue of proportionality.

And...

0:20:520:20:58

What I mean by proportionality

is we have a lot of serious social

0:20:580:21:01

problems to deal with,

and the chances of

0:21:010:21:10

in a terrorist attack,

even when the terrorist

0:21:100:21:12

attack is quite high, are

relatively low.

0:21:120:21:14

The problem is that

when attacks happen they are

0:21:140:21:17

shocking, catastrophic.

0:21:170:21:19

And of course you get

a massive media

0:21:190:21:21

reaction to them.

0:21:210:21:23

Too much of a media

reaction, do you think?

0:21:230:21:25

Yes, I think so.

0:21:250:21:26

We've had this debate.

0:21:260:21:27

I know, and I'm not

blaming the media

0:21:270:21:29

for the world in which we live.

0:21:290:21:31

It's inevitable.

0:21:310:21:32

It's what audiences

are talking about.

0:21:320:21:33

Exactly.

0:21:330:21:34

But we need to keep a sense

of proportion about

0:21:340:21:37

what we are dealing with.

0:21:370:21:38

I don't think terrorism

in its current form

0:21:380:21:40

presents a systemic

threat to the nation.

0:21:400:21:44

It presents the possibility

of horrible happenings, which we are

0:21:440:21:47

learning how to deal with.

0:21:470:21:52

And of course,

at the moment there is

0:21:520:21:54

unquestionably going to be

a heightened risk as we have got

0:21:540:21:56

more returnees coming back

from Syria,

0:21:560:21:58

probably from Afghanistan as well.

0:21:580:22:03

I want to come back

to this issue of trust.

0:22:030:22:05

Do you feel...

0:22:050:22:06

You may say it doesn't

explain Brexit, but do you

0:22:060:22:09

feel the establishment is viewed

with a kind of anger and distaste?

0:22:090:22:16

I mean, it could be the expenses

scandal, it could be the financial

0:22:160:22:19

crash, it could be Iraq.

0:22:190:22:21

I think that is a dangerous

generalisation,

0:22:210:22:23

Evan, I really do.

0:22:230:22:24

Do you?

0:22:240:22:25

I mean, you were

involved in the Iraq

0:22:250:22:27

build-up.

0:22:270:22:28

Do you think responsibility

was taken for the

0:22:280:22:31

mistakes made at that

time, the dodgy dossier?

0:22:310:22:36

We're not here to discuss

Iraq, and if we start on

0:22:360:22:39

that track we will be

here for hours.

0:22:390:22:43

But just in general, do you see that

as an area where some of

0:22:430:22:46

the rot set in in this relationship

between the government and the

0:22:460:22:51

governed in this country?

0:22:510:22:52

No, I don't think so.

0:22:520:22:54

So much as subsequently

happened in the Middle

0:22:540:22:56

East that that would

be a facile argument.

0:22:560:22:57

Can I ask one last one?

0:22:570:23:01

Talk to a lot of people, mostly

Remainers but not exclusively, who

0:23:010:23:03

think the world is going

to hell in a handcart.

0:23:030:23:11

What's your sort of analysis?

0:23:110:23:14

Is this a 10-year process

of turbulence, our be talking to

0:23:140:23:17

years of turbulence?

0:23:170:23:18

I would have thought

probably nearer five.

0:23:180:23:20

Nearer five.

0:23:200:23:21

I think we can emerge from that

in a pretty strong position, if

0:23:210:23:24

we do not lose self belief

and self-confidence.

0:23:240:23:29

Sir Richard Dearlove,

thank you very much.

0:23:290:23:31

Evan, thank you.

0:23:310:23:35

Tomorrow could be a decisive day

in the history of Rupert Murdoch

0:23:350:23:38

and his enormous media empire.

0:23:380:23:45

For over half a century he has

been building it up.

0:23:450:23:48

If reports out of America are to be

believed, tomorrow could see a very

0:23:480:23:51

significant restructuring

because Disney appears

0:23:510:23:52

poised to takeover

a huge chunk of it -

0:23:520:23:54

20th Century Fox.

0:23:540:23:56

A huge deal that would leave Murdoch

controlling a much smaller and more

0:23:560:23:59

focussed group of news businesses.

0:23:590:24:00

But what does this tell us

about the media industry -

0:24:000:24:06

and what could it mean for Sky,

and particularly Sky News in the UK?

0:24:060:24:09

I'm joined from New York

by Shannon Bond, the US

0:24:090:24:12

Media Correspondent

for the Financial Times.

0:24:120:24:13

And in the studio by David Yelland.

0:24:130:24:15

He's the former editor of the Sun

and knows Rupert Murdoch very well.

0:24:150:24:23

Is it right to view this as Murdoch

retreating a bit into the area he

0:24:230:24:29

knows and loves, news?

I think

anybody would have been surprised?

0:24:290:24:34

Months ago to think Rupert Murdoch

was going to be a seller. He spent

0:24:340:24:37

decades building this empire. It

does seem to be a bit of a retreat

0:24:370:24:43

to his origins in the news and in

sports here. It is not going to be

0:24:430:24:46

the sprawling empire that Fox is

today.

Is this an era semiretirement

0:24:460:24:55

for Rupert Murdoch?

I don't think it

is retirement of any kind. He is

0:24:550:25:04

retreating to news. But I don't

think that is the right word. I

0:25:040:25:07

think this is about the next ten to

15 years. Apple is six, seven times,

0:25:070:25:14

well, four times the size of Fox and

Disney together. Amazon is $560

0:25:140:25:21

billion. The West Coast companies in

the US and the Chinese will control

0:25:210:25:28

media in ten years' time. There

would be to Chinese giants, for US

0:25:280:25:32

giants. The only one that will

survive will be Disney now.

0:25:320:25:37

Basically it is just racing to get

big and be safe?

I think he has

0:25:370:25:43

accepted he has not got the scale in

the digital world to be one of the

0:25:430:25:47

top one or two.

Is that your view of

it in terms of the bigger picture of

0:25:470:25:52

the entertainment scene in the next

decade?

I think that is absolutely

0:25:520:25:57

right. It is an acknowledgement that

Fox does not have the scale for the

0:25:570:26:01

future of entertainment. It is true,

we see these enormously disruptive

0:26:010:26:05

forces coming out of silicon valley,

are also changing the way that media

0:26:050:26:10

is produced and consumed. Who paying

for it, who is watching it?

Over

0:26:100:26:16

here we think it quite a lot about

Sky. In the United States it is

0:26:160:26:20

probably not considered a huge

thing. What does this mean for Sky?

0:26:200:26:26

The Murdoch share will be in the

Disney empire. Murdoch wanted all of

0:26:260:26:29

it. We assume Disney will take it

all?

Right, our understanding is one

0:26:290:26:35

where the other Disney World and up

morning Sky. Fox will continue to

0:26:350:26:39

buy the rest of the shares and

either they will get approved by

0:26:390:26:43

them, and then it will become part

of the Disney deal. If not, Disney

0:26:430:26:47

will take over that 39% stake they

own now and make its own bid to on

0:26:470:26:52

the rest of it. One way or the

other, Skye goes to Disney. It does

0:26:520:26:57

not have resonance in the US. But we

do recognise that for Disney it is a

0:26:570:27:04

big distribution platform for them

in Europe for their content. Very

0:27:040:27:07

important for future strategy.

Sky

News, a lot of people say Sky News

0:27:070:27:14

loses money, and the best way to run

a news organisation is to have a

0:27:140:27:20

billionaire behind you loves news.

Will Disney be interested in Sky

0:27:200:27:23

News?

People don't realise that

Disney is an incredibly big provider

0:27:230:27:28

of news in the US. It owns ABC and

has done for 20 years. ABC is one of

0:27:280:27:34

the big three original networks. The

irony is the CMA have the government

0:27:340:27:39

are looking at variety. The fact is

Rupert Murdoch created Sky. He

0:27:390:27:47

created so many of these assets

which authorities around the world

0:27:470:27:50

are looking at. Without him it

wouldn't exist. Now Sky will be

0:27:500:27:55

owned by a US media giant but not

Fox. There is a huge irony there. I

0:27:550:27:59

would say to Anna Bolton and my

friends at Sky, they will be fine.

0:27:590:28:05

-- Adam Boulton.

Our big American

media empires interested in having

0:28:050:28:12

news channels as loss leaders to

give them prestige and a life

0:28:120:28:15

present in the world?

I think it is

absolutely significant for them.

0:28:150:28:21

Also, you can't discount the viewing

they are getting from these

0:28:210:28:24

channels. We are all obsessed with

screaming, we are all talking about

0:28:240:28:29

disruption. But people are still

watching the news and sport live.

0:28:290:28:32

Those are areas in which the

so-called linear television system

0:28:320:28:37

is going to be strong for a while

yet. There are still millions of

0:28:370:28:41

people who want to tune in to see

these things as they happen.

Thank

0:28:410:28:44

you both.

0:28:440:28:45

When the Grenfell fire

happened six months ago,

0:28:450:28:47

we quickly realised that something

had gone wrong with the building

0:28:470:28:51

regulations, or at least the way

they were implemented.

0:28:510:28:53

The result in that case

was a tragedy that has prompted

0:28:530:28:56

a complete review of fire safety

in tall buildings.

0:28:560:28:58

Well, tonight we can bring

you details of another area

0:28:580:29:00

of fire safety regulation,

which some believe needs examining -

0:29:000:29:04

it is that which purports to prevent

furniture from burning.

0:29:040:29:08

Now, the rules governing furniture

in this country are tough,

0:29:080:29:10

which you might assume is a good

thing in the wake of Grenfell.

0:29:100:29:14

This special report on the problem,

and how we got here,

0:29:140:29:17

is from our policy

editor, Chris Cook.

0:29:170:29:18

There is one area where Britain has

usually thought of itself as having

0:29:180:29:21

the toughest safety regulations

on earth, furniture.

0:29:210:29:27

We subject it to harder tests

than anyone else to try to make it

0:29:270:29:31

as fireproof as possible

for good reason.

0:29:310:29:39

For example, a sofa can be

a massive fire hazard.

0:29:390:29:44

But questions have arisen

about the safety of the rules we use

0:29:440:29:47

to contain this risk.

0:29:470:29:51

The civil servant who was

until recently in charge

0:29:510:29:54

of reviewing these regulations has

had a change of heart

0:29:540:29:57

about their wisdom since he got

involved in this field

0:29:570:30:00

in the mid-2000s.

0:30:000:30:03

I would have said these are the most

stringent fire safety,

0:30:030:30:06

domestic arrangements in the world.

0:30:060:30:09

They are a great success

and they are saving lives

0:30:090:30:11

and the rest of the world should

really come up to the same

0:30:110:30:15

level of requirements

that we have in the UK.

0:30:150:30:17

But you absolutely

don't believe that now?

0:30:170:30:18

I absolutely don't believe that now.

0:30:180:30:22

In Britain furniture fabric has

to pass very tough tests,

0:30:220:30:26

uniquely tough in the world,

before you are allowed to sell

0:30:260:30:31

it on the open market.

0:30:310:30:33

Manufacturers, though,

have worked out that the easiest way

0:30:330:30:36

to get through those tests is simply

to load the fabric with

0:30:360:30:39

chemical flame retardants.

0:30:390:30:44

The Grenfell Tower fire

is an apt moment to consider

0:30:440:30:48

the wisdom of this approach.

0:30:480:30:50

Within the Tower the fire obviously

moved through the building very

0:30:500:30:52

rapidly and people reported noxious

black smoke filling the interior.

0:30:520:30:59

rapidly and people reported noxious,

black smoke filling the interior.

0:30:590:31:02

A dozen residents were treated

afterwards for cyanide poisoning,

0:31:020:31:04

including a 12-year-old member

of the Gomez family.

0:31:040:31:06

The smoke was certainly

so intense that as soon

0:31:060:31:09

as you took a mouthful of air,

or in this case smoke,

0:31:090:31:13

you were gagging.

0:31:130:31:23

Smoke is always bad for you,

it can always kill you.

0:31:240:31:27

But the thing is, the commonest fire

retardants in use in UK

0:31:270:31:30

furniture work by interfering

with the chemistry of the flame

0:31:300:31:32

and a by-product of their use

is that when a fire gets going,

0:31:320:31:35

the smoke is more toxic.

0:31:350:31:41

A new peer-reviewed paper

in the journal Chemisphere suggests

0:31:410:31:43

they make it much more toxic.

0:31:430:31:46

The first thing we found

was that the sofas burnt at almost

0:31:460:31:49

the same kind of rate.

0:31:490:31:51

You did not get a particular

slowing down comparing

0:31:510:31:53

the non-flame retardant sofas

with the flame retardant ones.

0:31:530:31:56

The second thing is we got

between two and three times more

0:31:560:31:59

toxicity in the smoke from the UK

fire retardant sofas

0:31:590:32:03

and we did from the European

non-fire retardant sofas.

0:32:030:32:09

than we did from the European

non-fire retardant sofas.

0:32:090:32:11

More toxicity means more carbon

monoxide and hydrogen

0:32:110:32:14

cyanide in the smoke.

0:32:140:32:18

But the chemical companies point

to their own research saying UK

0:32:180:32:21

sofas clearly do better at resisting

fires than other European sofas

0:32:210:32:24

when they are first ignited,

and advocates of flame retardants

0:32:240:32:28

note that even if it makes mature

fires more dangerous, preventing

0:32:280:32:32

fires is the only smart strategy.

0:32:320:32:35

The best way to deal with toxicity

of smoke is to begin

0:32:350:32:38

with not to have a fire.

0:32:380:32:40

Not only do we benefit from not

having the toxic smoke,

0:32:400:32:43

but you will benefit from not having

the flames spread, you will benefit

0:32:430:32:47

from not having the structure

being put into structural danger,

0:32:470:32:49

you will have no problem of the fire

struggling to different compartments

0:32:490:32:58

you will have no problem of the fire

travelling to different compartments

0:32:580:33:01

and finding different fuels.

0:33:010:33:02

This is, however, not the first wave

of unrest about retardants.

0:33:020:33:04

So the flame retardants

are what are called semi-volatile,

0:33:040:33:06

that means they are coming out

always from the couch,

0:33:060:33:09

you don't have to sit on it,

they are always coming out,

0:33:090:33:12

and they are heavy,

they drop into dust.

0:33:120:33:14

You get dust on your hands

and you eat a sandwich

0:33:140:33:16

and you are eating flame retardant.

0:33:160:33:19

Our own government just last year

noted flame retardant chemicals,

0:33:190:33:21

particularly brominated flame

retardants, can be harmful

0:33:210:33:23

to human and animal health.

0:33:230:33:28

There is a big question though

about whether these regulations

0:33:280:33:31

are actually preventing fires.

0:33:310:33:34

For example, they don't really take

account of the fact that in a sofa

0:33:340:33:38

arm you might have a load

of flammable Hessian or wood or even

0:33:380:33:41

cardboard just under the surface.

0:33:410:33:44

Professor Ryan does not support

reducing flame retardant use,

0:33:440:33:46

but also acknowledges

the statistical difficulty

0:33:460:33:50

in proving their effectiveness.

0:33:500:33:53

When you look into medicine, for

example, I envy them tremendously.

0:33:530:33:55

They do meta analysis,

which is an analysis

0:33:550:33:57

of the reviews of the reviews.

0:33:570:33:59

In fire science we cannot

do meta analysis.

0:33:590:34:02

We have like three studies

per topic instead of 3000,

0:34:020:34:06

which is the level of the studies

that you will require to actually

0:34:060:34:09

inform the politicians.

0:34:090:34:13

So we operate in this area

slightly in the dark.

0:34:130:34:16

People from competing disciplines

give different answers

0:34:160:34:18

to the same questions.

0:34:180:34:21

It is a complex public policy issue.

0:34:210:34:24

So how did we end up

with these rules?

0:34:240:34:27

The story of our fire regulation

really starts in the 1980s

0:34:270:34:30

when there was real disquiet

about fire deaths.

0:34:300:34:34

In part because we used horrifyingly

flammable foam padding in furniture,

0:34:340:34:37

which is now just banned,

and more people smoked.

0:34:370:34:43

I am warning this room

could be a burnt out shell

0:34:430:34:46

because of the burning

cigarette someone forgot.

0:34:460:34:50

This man is Bob Graham,

then a Manchester firefighter,

0:34:500:34:53

speaking in 1985 on Newsnight.

0:34:530:34:56

We were running a feature on how

many fires were then

0:34:560:34:59

being caused by cigarettes.

0:34:590:35:00

We have got a situation

where we have the smallest emission

0:35:000:35:03

source in the home being responsible

for the largest

0:35:030:35:06

proportion of deaths.

0:35:060:35:10

At that time Assistant Chief Fire

Officer Graham wanted cigarette

0:35:100:35:13

companies to roll out self

extinguishing cigarettes

0:35:130:35:15

to cut down on fires.

0:35:150:35:18

Not a universally

popular view in 1985.

0:35:180:35:22

Here at the headquarters

of the Tobacco Advisory Council

0:35:220:35:24

repeated requests for a spokesman

to discuss self distinguishing

0:35:240:35:34

repeated requests for a spokesman

to discuss self extinguishing

0:35:340:35:36

cigarettes have been met

with polite refusals.

0:35:360:35:38

The tobacco companies may not have

been talking to Newsnight, but we do

0:35:380:35:41

know that they were watching.

0:35:410:35:43

Newsnight has dug up legal

disclosures from the US

0:35:430:35:45

which show just how concerned

they were about our reports.

0:35:450:35:53

One of them notes that

their inability to put forward

0:35:530:35:56

a defensible PR stance on these

issues had been amply demonstrated

0:35:560:35:58

by TV comments in July 1985.

0:35:580:36:00

That is when that

Newsnight report went out.

0:36:000:36:02

They needed to find a way to get

people to talk about fires

0:36:020:36:05

as being caused by furniture,

not by cigarettes.

0:36:050:36:07

From these documents we know that

tobacco companies contributed

0:36:070:36:10

to the development of flame

retardants for furniture.

0:36:100:36:12

In Britain, big tobacco set

up a special fire safe

0:36:120:36:15

cigarette working group.

0:36:150:36:18

This press conference,

called by a West Midlands Fire chief

0:36:180:36:22

in 1988, was enormously helpful.

0:36:220:36:25

It was critical in forcing

the debate from cigarettes

0:36:250:36:28

and onto furniture.

0:36:280:36:30

And the documents show

converting firefighters

0:36:300:36:32

to their cause was a key plank

of big tobacco's policy.

0:36:320:36:37

Now thanks to those court

disclosures, we now know

0:36:370:36:40

that the tobacco companies had

actually been working on Mr Graham,

0:36:400:36:43

and another firefighter

who was on that podium.

0:36:430:36:46

You see, the documents

are pretty clear.

0:36:460:36:48

The tobacco companies thought

they had no credibility

0:36:480:36:51

to talk about fire safety,

and they needed a protective

0:36:510:36:53

ring of firefighters

who could do it for them.

0:36:530:36:58

So they said Mr Graham could be one

of their so-called spark plugs,

0:36:580:37:02

people who could move

the debate their way.

0:37:020:37:04

So they met him, they engaged

with him and sought to make him see

0:37:040:37:07

furniture rather than cigarettes

as the problem.

0:37:070:37:10

And we know that pretty soon he

changed his mind in that direction.

0:37:100:37:14

We asked Mr Graham whether he knew

back in the 1980s, that he was being

0:37:140:37:18

targeted by tobacco lobbyists.

0:37:180:37:21

I didn't know that.

0:37:210:37:25

They saw you and your support

for the self-extinguishing cigarette

0:37:250:37:29

as a thing we had to deal with.

0:37:290:37:33

Yeah.

0:37:330:37:35

I was in the fire service.

0:37:350:37:36

You wouldn't be allowed

to do anything like that.

0:37:360:37:39

You know, you couldn't deal with any

businesses, whatever they were.

0:37:390:37:43

But I never heard from them.

0:37:430:37:45

Not that I can remember anyway.

0:37:450:37:47

So you weren't aware at any point

of the tobacco industry sort of...

0:37:470:37:51

No, I wasn't.

0:37:510:37:54

That's all new to me.

0:37:540:37:57

Mr Graham said he just

changed his mind in favour

0:37:570:37:59

of furniture regulation.

0:37:590:38:00

He wasn't alone.

0:38:000:38:01

In 1988, the government

was persuaded.

0:38:010:38:04

Britain banned a lot of flammable

furniture and brought

0:38:040:38:07

in the current tests.

0:38:070:38:08

The response from big tobacco?

0:38:080:38:09

Job done.

0:38:090:38:12

There memos referred to the group

on fire safe cigarettes,

0:38:120:38:15

self-extinguishing.

0:38:150:38:25

That though was not

the end of the lobbying.

0:38:250:38:27

The chemical companies who make

retardants became bigger players.

0:38:270:38:30

The alliance for consumer fire

safety in Europe aggressively

0:38:300:38:32

lobbied to extend our rules

to other EU countries.

0:38:320:38:34

They had the same strategy -

get a firefighter.

0:38:340:38:36

I'd been retired about five years.

0:38:360:38:38

And then they asked for a meeting.

0:38:380:38:39

I met them.

0:38:390:38:43

They said, "We'd like you to raise

fire awareness in Europe."

0:38:430:38:46

And I said, "OK, but I do it my way.

0:38:460:38:49

I'm not being influenced by anyone."

0:38:490:38:52

And they were funded

by the fire retardant company?

0:38:520:38:56

Yes, by a committee of all the flame

retardant manufacturers in Europe,

0:38:560:39:00

which is halogenated,

phosphorus and all those

0:39:000:39:04

kind, I understand.

0:39:040:39:08

And at one time I think smoke

alarm people as well.

0:39:080:39:11

OK.

0:39:110:39:13

And the...

0:39:130:39:15

So from its birth, the alliance

was really founded by the fire flame

0:39:150:39:20

retardant companies,

with you as executive front men?

0:39:200:39:26

retardant companies,

with you as executive front man?

0:39:260:39:28

I guess.

0:39:280:39:29

Yeah.

0:39:290:39:30

Yeah.

0:39:300:39:31

It would be silly to say no to that.

0:39:310:39:36

Mr Graham stressed that the alliance

did not advocate for retardants

0:39:360:39:39

in particular, although chemical

companies would tend

0:39:390:39:40

to benefit from the tough fire

safety rules he wanted.

0:39:400:39:43

But they're not the only lobby.

0:39:430:39:44

Back in 2014, the Business

Department proposed changing

0:39:440:39:46

the test, to make it more sensitive

to how modern furniture

0:39:460:39:49

is actually made.

0:39:490:39:50

It doesn't represent the way that

furniture is constructed,

0:39:500:39:52

and it doesn't take into account

the many flammable materials you can

0:39:520:39:55

get close to the surface

in the arms and so forth.

0:39:550:39:59

You could never bring

that test in now.

0:39:590:40:03

The proposed test reforms would mean

regulation and materials not

0:40:030:40:05

currently covered by the rules,

but would also mean an overall

0:40:050:40:08

reduction in flame retardant use.

0:40:080:40:11

So he was expecting the chemical

industry to resist.

0:40:110:40:14

Another industry though

was mobilised by the changes.

0:40:140:40:17

The furniture industry really

likes these regulations,

0:40:170:40:22

because they are a barrier to trade.

0:40:220:40:25

Because it gives them a huge

advantage in the home market.

0:40:250:40:30

Because if you are a German

manufacturer and you want some

0:40:300:40:37

Because if you are a German

manufacturer and you want to sell

0:40:370:40:40

furniture into the UK,

you've got to create

0:40:400:40:42

a separate range that complies

with our regulations.

0:40:420:40:44

A furniture industry body said

they thought our rules

0:40:440:40:53

needed a full update,

but oposed the reforms

0:40:530:40:55

because they thought they wouldn't

meet government objectives.

0:40:550:40:57

The government believes these

regulations do need reform,

0:40:570:40:59

but we don't spend much on research

to balance the competing concerns

0:40:590:41:02

about effectiveness and toxicity.

0:41:020:41:06

Some ministers sought

consensus on what would work.

0:41:060:41:08

But that collapsed in part

because there is so much money

0:41:080:41:11

riding on opposing change.

0:41:110:41:12

Do you think that we make foreign

safety policy on a scientific basis?

0:41:120:41:15

Not at the moment, no.

0:41:150:41:18

I've been involved with committees

that set regulations

0:41:180:41:19

and address regulation changes.

0:41:190:41:22

And I can tell you that I'm

surprised how little the role

0:41:220:41:25

of science has in these committees.

0:41:250:41:28

The standards process in the UK

is dominated by people who can

0:41:280:41:33

afford to attend the meetings,

and those are usually people

0:41:330:41:36

with a vested interest

in a particular outcome.

0:41:360:41:39

All lobbying is funded

by the industry.

0:41:390:41:43

All the resistance to

improvements in standards

0:41:430:41:46

comes from the industry.

0:41:460:41:49

And there is either money to be made

or money to be lost.

0:41:490:41:52

This is not ancient history.

0:41:520:41:55

The government consulted once again

last year on changes that

0:41:550:41:58

would reduce the flame retardant

load in our furniture.

0:41:580:42:00

We don't know what they'll do,

but we do know they faced organise

0:42:000:42:04

opposition from industry.

0:42:040:42:06

Also, in the wake of the disaster

in Kensington, and with relatively

0:42:060:42:09

little large-scale research to rely

on, ministers may find it

0:42:090:42:12

easiest to hope this

concern burns itself out.

0:42:120:42:22

That's all for this evening.

0:42:230:42:27

Before we go, the Daily Mail

describes those Tory rebels as self

0:42:270:42:33

consumed malcontents. It asks, are

you proud of yourselves? From me,

0:42:330:42:38

good night.

0:42:380:42:41

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