As reports emerge that Theresa May is set to face a Brexiteer challenge to her premiership, her ministers went before the cameras to do battle – with each other.
During flagship TV interviews, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Housing Minister Dominic Raab offered opposing views on what, if any, kind of customs deal the UK would reach with the EU.
Rudd insisted Theresa May was “open-minded” on a deal “within the customs framework” on the BBC Andrew Marr Show, while Raab, minutes later, told Robert Peston that the UK would not be staying in a customs union of “any form”.
It comes ahead of ministerial crunch talks on Brexit this week and as reports emerged that Brexiteers were lining up a “dream team” – Boris Johnson as PM, Michael Gove as Deputy PM and Jacob Rees-Mogg as Chancellor – to replace May should she try to keep Britain in the customs union with the EU.
But it was a day of divisions on the Sunday shows, with Labour big hitters also at loggerheads.
The Andrew Marr Show
Former leader of Labour-run Haringey Council, Clare Kober, who resigned last week citing bullying and sexism from members of her own party was first up on the BBC Andrew Marr Show.
Significantly, she told Marr that she had not raised complaints about bullying with the party’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee, as she had no faith its members would act on the complaints.
Her controversial plan for a public-private housing deal, the Haringey Development Vehicle – which Jeremy Corbyn hinted he viewed as a form of “social cleansing” – now looks to be dead in the water after the NEC intervened to pause it.
Kober also recounted some disturbing incidents.
“In the last two years, my experience has been that I have experienced more threats, more bullying, more intimidation than in the previous eight years put together,” she said.
“It’s absolutely sexist and that runs from the way I was treated by the National Executive Committee just last week, and I don’t believe a man would have been treated the same way, through to examples in council meetings where party members have shouted at me and sung a Police song, ‘Every Breath You Take’, as a means of intimidating me – that is a song about stalking. A man would not have been treated that way.”
Former NEC member and shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, speaking later on the BBC Sunday Politics show, said it sounded to him like Kober had legitimate complaints.
Ashworth, who until 18 months ago was a member of the NEC, said the body “would look at that very seriously”.
He said, however, that “a substantial number of councillors on Haringey asked the NEC to intervene” and “it’s clear that there’s two sides of the story and both feel extremely strongly”.
He added anyone found to have expressed anti-Semitic views would be thrown out of the Labour Party.
Next up was former business secretary Vince Cable.
The Lib Dems were one of the only parties united on Brexit, said Cable, who insisted he is enjoying his job as party leader, reminding Andrew Marr that a year ago, he was not even an elected politician.
“We are winning the public argument, which is essentially that we have a vote on the final deal and I am very comfortable that we are in the right place.
″I’m currently trying to press the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in particular to come out and support this position, which most of his supporters wished he had.”
Cable said that the Government was “making a terrible mess of the negotiations” but admitted there had been little movement in public support for Brexit.
Marr put it to Cable that unless Corbyn’s Labour Party was supportive of backing a vote on the final deal, the policy was a “dead duck”.
Cable disagreed and claimed Corbyn would eventually come under “enormous pressure” to change his position as there was a “simmering anger” among pro-Remain Labour MPs and members.
Outgoing Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, described Corbyn as an “outstanding politician” and backed the Labour leader as the next PM.
Brexit was “disastrous” for all of the island of Ireland, said Adams, and he still believes a deal can be reached to restore devolution at Stormont.
Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have previously faced criticism over their past dealings with Sinn Fein, including an occasion when they met the party at Westminster in the 1990s, before the IRA ceasefire.
Adams said Corbyn and former mayor Ken Livingstone were among the politicians who “kept faith” in peace talks.
He told Marr: “I would like to see Jeremy in that position [as PM] for the benefit of people in Britain, leaving Ireland out of it.
“I think Jeremy is an outstanding politician and I hope my endorsement of him is not used against him in the time ahead.
“He and [former London Mayor] Ken Livingstone and others kept faith and they were the people who said, when others said no, talk.”
Asked why he had not joined the IRA in the past, Adams said: “I have never distanced myself from the IRA.”
Next up was Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who insisted to Marr the Government was “not intimidated” by Brexiteers in her party.
Amid reports of a plot brewing against the PM, she said: “I have surprise for the Brexiteers which is the [Cabinet] sub committee that meets in order to help make these decisions is more united than they think.
“We meet in the committee. We meet privately for discussions. I think that we will arrive at something which suits us all.
“There will be choices to be made within that but we all want the same thing which is to arrive at a deal which works for the UK.”
She also said the Government would back staying in a kind of customs arrangement – something later strongly refuted by her colleague Dominic Raab – the housing minister.
Rudd said: “She [the PM] has an open mind on it. We published a document last year saying how we would do it and we proposed either a customs arrangement or a customs partnership. Those are both alternatives we could look at.”
Former speeches on Brexit made by the PM were put to Rudd, and she said: “I think what she is highlighting there is we do not want to have tariffs at the border so that is a form of customs agreement, arrangement, partnership.”
Rees-Mogg has said he is “suspicious” of how Treasury officials operate, and that their economic models, which show the UK will be worse off in every Brexit scenario bar remaining in the Customs Union, amount to “fiddling the figures” in favour of Remain.
But Rudd came out in defence of civil servants, saying they had her “complete confidence”, before adding: “I’m very surprised at Jacob because he is famously courteous, famously thoughtful, famously articulate so I’m very surprised that he has used that language.
“They are wrong, he is wrong here.”
She also responded to criticism of Brexit minister Steve Baker, who last week aired a false claim in the House of Commons about a thinktank’s boss claiming Treasury officials were pro-Remain.
Rudd said: “I think that Steve Baker has had an interesting week this week, when he also, over the whole debate about what was said when, was gracious enough to issue an apology.”
One report in the Sunday papers said that Rudd would become Chancellor in a Government led by Boris Johnson.
Replying to whether Rudd could serve under Johnson, she said: “That is such a difficult question on so many different levels, I’m going to pass.”
Peston on Sunday
After a bruising week for Treasury officials, Robert Peston’s first interview was with Lord Gus O’Donnell, the former head of the UK Civil Service.
He labelled claims civil servants were working to sabotage Brexit “completely crazy”, comparing Brexiteers to “snake oil salesmen” who, instead of accepting objective analysis on the economy, were trying to “shoot the messenger”.
“The truth is civil servants operate by the civil service code,” he said. “The values are honesty, objectivity, integrity, impartiality.
“Their job is to look at the evidence and present it as best they can, analyse the uncertainties ... but that’s what they do, they’re objective and impartial.
“And I think what you find is that tends to get accepted very nicely when it agrees with someone’s prior beliefs, but actually, when someone doesn’t like the answer, quite often they decide to shoot the messenger.”
He said the civil service seemed to be facing “one of the most sustained attacks” on its integrity in living memory by serving ministers.
“We look at the evidence and we go where it is,” he continued.
“Of course if you are selling snake oil, you don’t like the idea of experts testing your products.
“And I think that’s what we’ve got, this backlash against evidence and experts is because they know where the experts will go.”
Next up was shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti who, after hearing Kober’s remarks on the Andrew Marr Show, admitted the Labour Party must do more to shift sexism and anti-Semitism from the party.
She insisted, however, that any report made to the NEC would be investigated.
On the weekend marking 100 years since women got the vote, Chakrabarti was also asked about the gender pay gap at the BBC.
Asked if she thought the Director General Tony Hall should resign, she said: “I don’t think he has done enough [to tackle the pay gap], I will say that, but I don’t feel like calling for anyone’s demise today.”
Peston then interviewed Dominic Raab, the housing minister.
He was categorical that the PM would not support the UK remaining in a customs union – directly contradicting government colleague Rudd.
“I don’t think we’ll be in any form of customs union, at least as conceived in international trade practice,” he said.
“Because if we were we would have our hands tied in negotiating free trade deals with other parts of the world, whether it’s Brazil, whether it’s China or India.
“The Prime Minister has been very clear we want to be able to grasp those opportunities.”
He also insisted there were no divisions within the party on trade.
″I’m pretty sure I haven’t said anything about resignation to anyone in the media or otherwise, and I’m not talking about that.
“One of the reasons, one of the key advantages, one of the opportunities from leaving the EU is to have a more energetic approach to free trade.
“The PM has been in favour of that all along.”
He pointed to May’s journey to China and creating a Department for International Trade as evidence, adding: “There is absolutely not a fag paper between anyone on that issue.”
Reacting to Kober’s interview on Marr, Labour MP Stella Creasy said: “I think a lot of us have concerns.”
She added: “I myself know how difficult it is to complain when you are a target for this stuff. I’ve seen it in my local community. I’ve seen it nationally.”
Reality TV star Katie Price also spoke to Peston.
She revealed how internet trolls made “sex videos” of her disabled son Harvey.
Price is campaigning to make online abuse a specific criminal offence and will this week give evidence to a Commons committee.
Her 15-year-old son Harvey – who is partially blind, autistic and has Prader-Willi syndrome – was hit with abuse on Twitter last year by an unnamed 19-year-old who received a caution from Sussex Police.
Price won the backing of MPs Stella Creasy and John Whittingdale for her campaign as she opened up in a TV interview about some of the disturbing abuse her son was subjected to.
Labour MP Creasy said: “What happened to Katie’s son is horrific and completely unacceptable.
“My frustration as somebody who has always experienced this is all too often it seems an issue about malicious communications, actually there is legislation around harassment.”
BBC Sunday Politics
Sarah Smith’s first interviewee was Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis.
He is calling for members of all political parties to sign up to a “respect pledge”, which stipulates that people standing for Parliament should “behave responsibly and show respect” to others.
Conservative candidates who insult rivals will be suspended, he has previously said.
Lewis is also drawing up plans to tackle intimidation in public life. His appearance comes after a week in which Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was involved in a scuffle with political opponents at a speaking engagement.
Lewis attempted to blame the hard left for the majority of the abuse, but when challenged by Smith that bad behaviour came from across the political spectrum he said: “I do agree with you, that people with views on the centre, right and left should have the freedom and the knowledge that they can come forward as a candidate.”
The Conservatives will also strengthen electoral law to stop candidates facing intimidation at their home, the former housing minister said.
Smith also picked out criticism in the Sunday papers from Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, who accused the Government of being “vague” and “divided” over Brexit.
Lewis said withdrawal was a “serious and complicated piece of work” and said ministers would be thrashing out detail during meetings this week.