POLITICS
25/03/2018 17:23 BST | Updated 25/03/2018 18:19 BST

Sunday Shows Round-Up: Vote Leave On The Ropes, Michael Sheen And David Davis' Sick Bucket

Boris Johnson left isolated over Vote Leave defence and all the other news.

Between fresh allegations about the Brexit campaigning “cheating” and Owen Smith being sacked as Northern Ireland Secretary, it has been yet another hectic week in politics. 

Here’s HuffPost UK’s round-up of the Sunday politics shows to break it down for you. 

Vote Leave allegations

The main story of the day was that Vote Leave facing allegations it sidestepped campaign spending rules by handing £625,000 to separate group BeLeave - claims denied by VL. 

The allegations centre on Vote Leave whistleblower Shahmir Sanni’s claims that BeLeave was controlled by Vote Leave rather than an independent campaign.  

Sanni, who was in a relationship with senior Vote Leave Stephen Parkinson - now Theresa May’s political secretary - told Channel 4 News: “In effect they used BeLeave to over-spend, and not just by a small amount... Almost two-thirds of a million pounds makes all the difference and it wasn’t legal.”

Co-leader of the Greens, Caroline Lucas, has called for a police investigation.

She said: “This whole saga demonstrates that the Electoral Commission doesn’t have the resource, it doesn’t have the power, it’s been looking at this for over a year and nothing’s happened.

“When it comes to data regulation, in the hands of the Information Commissioner, her powers are so feeble that she had to wait for a week to get her people inside the offices of Cambridge Analytica, by which time presumably they will have pressed a few ‘delete’ buttons.”

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson, on the same show, said the ministers involved in Vote Leave have questions to answer about what they knew and when.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson on the Andrew Marr Show said a police investigation into Vote Leave may be necessary 

He said: “It’s very significant. Theresa May needs to make sure the Electoral Commission has the resources to fully investigate the allegations made, that there was criminal collusion because let’s remember the people that led this campaign are now senior Cabinet members and we need to make sure that they were not aware of what was going on. If needs be, the police should be resourced to investigate as well.” 

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has called the claims “utterly ludicrous” but by the end of the day looked increasingly isolated by his cabinet colleagues. 

Brexit Secretary Davis Davis told Marr: “It’s really a matter, if there’s any truth in it at all, for the Electoral Commission to investigate. That’s for them to decide, not for a minister to say.”

Leader of the House of Commons, and fellow Brexiteer, Andrea Leadsom told Sky News: “I believe there have been two previous investigations that have not found evidence of wrongdoing, so these things are incredibly important but they really not a matter for me, they are a matter for the Electoral Commission.” 

 Speaking on the ITV’s Peston on Sunday, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “It is properly a matter for the Electoral Commission to look into these things.”

Hunt also directly addressed a claim made by Sanni that Parkinson had outed him as gay this week using a No 10 statement. 

Hunt said: “I know Stephen Parkinson and I’ve always thought of him as someone with the highest integrity, and there are two sides to theses stories.” 

Labour MP and Remain-backer Ben Bradshaw, also speaking to Peston, said Johnson should not be interfering.

He said: “Boris Johnson is claiming there’s nothing there. With all due respect it’s not for Boris Johnson to decide. It’s for the Information Commissioner, the Electoral Commission and the police to decide if there was any illegality.”

 Tory MP Heidi Allen, who was a guest alongside Bradshaw, said the Vote Leave allegations painted a murky picture of the Brexit campaign.

She described the allegations about Parkinson outing his ex as “gossip” which was acting as a “smokescreen” for the separate allegations made about Vote Leave. 

She said: “The whole thing feels pretty filthy, and I think when you mix personal relationships and work it can get messy as it has done here.”

The BBC Sunday Politics Show unearthed a story about scandal-hit firm Cambridge Analytica’s parent company SCL Elections. The show said it had evidence that SCL boasted about interfering in foreign elections.  

 

Health spending 

Robert Peston’s main guest was Jeremy Hunt, Health and Social Care Secretary, who backed a 10-year spending plan for the NHS and said tax rises could be used to pay for it. 

Hunt said that while a ten-year settlement was not Government policy, a longer-term plan would allow the NHS to train staff and better prepare for an ageing population. 

When asked if the Government was eyeing a specific NHS tax, Hunt said: “It’s a bit premature to talk about that. If you ask the public about the NHS, they’re very clear they would like to see more money going to the NHS, they would be prepared to see some of their own taxes going into the NHS but they are very clear they want to know that money is actually going into the NHS and social care system, and they want to know that the NHS is going to reform and tackle some of the inefficiencies.”

He also set out a new policy on midwifery, saying mothers would be guaranteed the same team of midwives throughout pregnancy and birth. 

It could save 700 babies’ lives every year and potentially prevent 500 babies being born with brain damage. 

“But it needs more midwives,” said Hunt. “And one of the things this PM has done is think about the NHS workforce issues.”  

 

Government Brexit Policy 

Amid heightened fears of a hard Irish border, Brexit Secretary David Davis - who conducted his interview with Andrew Marr with a sick bucket by his feet due to being ill - told Marr that a solution will be found that avoid cameras. 

Davis said a trade was likely to include a customs arrangement and that the Government was committed to protecting the Good Friday Agreement “at all costs”.

“There is a risk in trying to focus just on the downsides because the real likely outcome - the overwhelmingly likely outcome - is option A,” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

“Option A is that we get a free-trade agreement, we get a customs agreement, all of those make the Northern Ireland issue much, much easier to solve.”

The EU withdrawal deal includes a fallback option of Northern Ireland effectively continuing to remain in the customs union, but Mr Davis said either the UK-EU trade deal or new technology could prevent that.

When challenged that there were no other borders of that kind in the world, Mr Davis told the Andrew Marr Show: “We have got a whole load of new technology now.”

The UK’s free trade deal will not be like the arrangements Norway or Canada has with the EU, but will instead be the “most comprehensive one ever”, said Davis. 

Backbench Tory MP John Redwood, a hardline Brexiteer, however, insisted that no deal would be better than a bad deal. 

“There are lots and lots of upside from just leaving,” he said. 

Following Nigel Farage fish protest on the Thames this week, Redwood told Niall Paterson “we want to take control of our fish from next year. 

He added: “I don’t see why we should have to give away our fish for another 21 months in order to secure imports from Germany.”

 

Owen Smith’s sacking 

Jeremy Corbyn asked shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith to stand down on Friday after the Pontypridd MP used a Guardian column to make the case for Labour backing a referendum on the Brexit deal. 

Watson told Marr his boss had no choice.

He said: “I was disappointed to see Owen go … but he does know how collective responsibility works. When you join the shadow Cabinet, you may have your own personal views but you’re there representing the collective view of Labour party. If I’m being honest, I don’t think Jeremy really did have a choice but to ask him to stand down.”

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald did not defend Smith either.

He told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show: “I’m sorry to see Owen go because he articulated the case on Northern Irish issues so brilliantly. He’ll be a loss. But that’s been his decision ultimately, he’s not prepared to be bound by collective responsibility and that’s the consequence.”

Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, meanwhile, told Peston Smith had “made it clear” he would not respect the rules of collective responsibility.

He said: “It’s a great shame to lose Owen from the team, I enjoyed working with him, he was well respected and knew a great deal about that brief. But we’ve got a way of working in the shadow cabinet. We’ve got collective responsibility and Jeremy Corbyn’s entitled to say we’ve got a way of working.

“We do have to work collectively. I think Owen has made it clear that he is not prepared to abide by that collective responsibility principle.”

 

Labour’s Brexit policy 

 Deputy Labour leader Watson revealed that the party was open to an effective second referendum on the Brexit deal but that it was “highly unlikely” that would be adopted as policy. 

He told Marr: “We’ve never called for a second referendum, we didn’t call for it in our manifesto, we’ve been very clear that we are calling for a meaningful vote in parliament.” 

When pressed on a re-run of the poll, he said: “You should always try to keep your options open in a negotiation. I think it is highly, highly, highly unlikely that we will be calling for a second referendum.”

Speaking on Peston on Sunday, shadow Brexit secretary Starmer, said a second referendum was not Labour policy.

He said: “We’re not calling for that, but I can see why there’s an argument that this is not something that should be the preserve of the Prime Minister, this is not an executive act, we’re talking about what the next 20 years looks like.

“But that’s why the vote in parliament in autumn is so important. We’ve got to have a point at which this moves from the prime minister’s sole responsibility, from the executive, into parliament so parliament can say: Do we approve or do we not approve of this deal?”

When asked if the Government’s new blue passports should be made in Britain, Starmer simply answered: “Yes, they should.

“It such an important issue, of course they should be made by a British company.”

He also revealed the party was to push for an amendment to the Brexit bill on the Northern Ireland border.

He said: “This is an amendment which is intended to enshrine in law the commitment that there won’t be a hard border in Northern Ireland.”

McDonald later told Sky News that he thought it was too late for a second Brexit referendum, adding: “I would just ask people to think through: where would that get us if we were to go down that path of that second referendum at this stage. It is about bringing the nation together.” 

 

Anti-semitism in the Labour Party 

A complaint has been made to Labour’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee, that Jeremy Corbyn has brought the party into disrepute after defending an anti-semitic mural on Facebook in 2012. 

Corbyn claims he was defending “freedom of speech” and did not closely examine the controversial mural - which he has since conceded was antisemitic - before making a supportive post to street artist Mear One on Facebook in 2012. 

Some of Labour’s frontbench spoke out on his behalf. 

Starmer said the mural was clearly anti-semitic, adding: “It is grotesque and disgusting and should have been taken down. It’s anti-Semitic and we need to be absolutely clear about that. Jeremy Corbyn has now given his explanation and regretted that.”

Watson: “I’m very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that’s why I think it’s right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it.

“He said that he didn’t see the mural and he was talking about free expression. Now that he has seen the mural, he’s right to say that it was right not just [for it] to be removed but that he expresses deep regret for the offense caused by the mural.” 

Shadow transport secretary McDonald said: “He’s accepted that he didn’t look at it properly, it is anti-Semitic and it should be removed.” 

But he added that he thought Corbyn was an honest man, who had spent his career fighting discrimination. 

“Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t got an anti-Semitic bone in his body,” he said. 

Watson on Marr apologised over how Corbyn’s office dealt with the row.

He said: “I’m very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that’s why I think it’s right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it.

“He said that he didn’t see the mural, he was talking about free expression and I think now that he has seen the mural, he’s right to say that it was right not just to be removed but that he expresses deep regret for the offence caused by the mural.”

Labour MP Luciana Berger, head of Jewish Labour, said the response by the leader’s office was “wholly inadequate” and failed to understand “on any level the hurt and anguish felt about antisemitism”. 

Watson said: “I think it’s time we said that enough is enough on these antisemitic stories.”

He went on: “Nobody in the Labour Party should have the slightest hesitation in condemning this mural, it’s antisemitic, it’s horrible and I want Jewish members as well as every other member of the Labour Party to feel welcome in our party.

“I think it’s time we said that enough is enough on these antisemitic stories and we are taking measures to do that.”

Meanwhile, Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, told the BBC she would be minded to push for a debate on anti-semitism in the House of Commons. 

The idea was raised by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid in a tweet on Friday. 

She told the BBC Sunday Politics:  “I am very sympathetic to the call for a debate on it, and I’m certainly hoping to make some progress on it.”

And finally .... 

 Actor Michael Sheen refused to rule out the prospect of standing as a Labour  MP in Aberavon. 

The Welshman, who was nominated for a BAFTA for his portrayal of Tony Blair in The Queen, failed to confirm or deny he would like to run for office during an interview with Peston. 

The seat is currently held by Corbyn critic Stephen Kinnock.