Jeremy Corbyn used his first Sunday show interview of the New Year to wind-up Labour backbenchers about what the single market actually is, refused to rule out a second referendum and questioned whether under Donald Trump the US really was the UK’s closest ally.
Also this morning, Emily Thornberry branded Donald Trump a “racist”. John McDonnell was labelled a “truly evil” by Andrea Leadsom. Matt Hancock suggested the BBC cap pay at the same level as the prime minister. Caroline Nokes re-committed the government to keeping immigration to the tens of thousands. Momentum founder Jon Lansman said he wants it easier for MPs to get onto Labour leadership ballots. And Ukip’s new leader is under pressure to quit.
Also, new Tory deputy chairman James Cleverly said Theresa May was “tantalising” him with the promise of a kiss - because apparently this long-running flirty ‘banter’ can not be stopped.
Jeremy Corbyn today flatly rejected demands from some of his backbenchers that Labour should support the UK remaining in the single market after Brexit because “leaving the EU means you leave the single market”.
Corbyn’s claim was immediately rejected as nonsense. Chuka Umunna, told Sky News’ Sunday with Niall Paterson that this was “that is not correct”. He explained: “Noway, Lichtenstein and Iceland fully participate in the single market but they are not members of the EU. There is no reason why the UK, if we leave, should not have that kind of relationship.”
Chris Leslie, a former shadow chancellor, tweeted simply: “The Single Market is NOT dependent on membership of the EU.The Single Market is NOT dependent on membership of the EU. The Single Market is NOT dependent on membership of the EU. The Single Market is NOT dependent on membership of the EU.”
The Labour leadership argues that Umunna and others are confusing access to the single market, which requires Norway to accept its rules without having a say in setting them, with membership.
Nicola Sturgeon used her appearance on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme to argue remaining in the single market was the “least damaging” Brexit option.
Corbyn also used the interview to maintain Labour’s politically delicate position on a second referendum. The party, he said, was “not supporting or calling for a second referendum”. Asked if the party could support another vote, the Labour leader artfully dodged by answering an entirely different question. “We are not calling for one either,” he told Peston.
It is also reported that Labour is shifting towards a position of remaining in the EU customs union. Asked about this on ITV, Corbyn said “there will have to be a customs union with the European Union, obviously.”
Speaking to ITV, Corbyn questioned whether the US under Donald Trump, with his “endless offensive” comments, was really the UK’s closest ally. Has “anyone has succeeded in defining the special relationship” the Labour leader asked.
“I think there are many important relationships. The US one is obviously culturally and economically significant and important,” he said. “Also the trading relationships we have around the world with obviously the EU, but also with India and China and the rest of the world are very important.”
Corbyn’s comment came shortly after Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry made it very clear what she thought of the US president in the wake of his “shithole” comment abut Africa.
Thornberry told the BBCs Andrew Marr programme: “He is an asteroid of awfulness that has fallen on this world I think he is a danger and I think that he is a racist.”
Brandon Lewis, the new Tory chairman, told Marr the relationship with the US was “very important relationship for us”. Asked whether Trump’s “outlandish racist” comment was acceptable, Lewis said: “I don’t think any of us should be using that kind of language.” But he added: “The last thing I saw was the president himself is claiming he didn’t actually say that.”
Lewis, who was appointed to his job by Theresa May in last week’s reshuffle, used his TV appearance to announce Tory candidates would be made to pledge to fight clean campaigns. “I call on the Labour Party to stand up and make the same statement.”
It came as Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, branded John McDonnell “truly evil” for his past comments about work and pensions secretary Esther McVey.
The shadow chancellor once called McVey a “stain on humanity” and quoted an activist who called for her to be “lynched”.
Leadsom said the comments played on the BBC’s Sunday Politics today, were “utterly disgusting”.
Corbyn told Peston it was “a basic in the Labour Party, you treat people with respect and treat each other with respect”. He added: “I don’t do personal abuse of anybody and I don’t expect anybody else to do it towards any of our candidates or anyone else.”
The row over what McDonnell said about McVey has re-emerged following her promotion last week.
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner told the BBC’s Sunday Politics: “It’s certainly not language I would have used…..The point I’m making here is that he was quoting what somebody else said. Now I would not have chosen to quote that.”
Matt Hancock, the new culture secretary, popped up on Peston on Sunday this morning to suggest the BBC cap the pay of its biggest stars at £150,000 - the same level as the prime minister.
Amid a row over equal pay at the broadcaster, John Humphrys has been criticised after a leaked tape, obtained by BuzzFeed, showed him joking with Sopel about the matter. He was listed as having a salary of between £600,000 and £649,999, making him the BBC’s highest-paid news presenter.
“Making sure we have equal pay isn’t just about levelling up women’s pay in the BBC, it’s about equal pay and a reasonable level,” Hancock said today. “Across the rest of the public sector, we brought in rules to say that except in exceptional circumstances, people who are paid for by taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be paid more than the prime minister.”
The BBC hit back quickly. A spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “We are competing against ITV, Sky, C4, and increasingly now the deep pockets of Netflix, Amazon and Apple. A number of presenters have left the BBC for considerably more money but we always look to negotiate deals at discount against the market.”
The suggestion that a second referendum could be held on EU membership was given a boost last week when Nigel Farage decided he had not been in the newspapers enough recently, performed a U-turn, and suggested he could back a second vote. He also used interview with The Observer today to reveal he was worried Brexiteers could “lose the historic victory” they won in 2016 as “The Remain side are making all the running”.
Could the stage also be set for Farage to un-resign himself as Ukip leader, again? Current Ukip leader, Henry Bolton, is facing calls to resign after his girlfriend reportedly made racist remarks about Meghan Markle.
Party chairman Paul Oakden told the BBC this morning that Bolton has some “difficult decisions to make” that come come as fast as today. “He and I have spoken regularly over the weekend, as recently as this morning. I don’t think he’s very focused on those decisions today. He intends on making those decisions today, and I’m sure whatever he does will be in the best interests of the party.”
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes was one of the new faces doing the rounds this morning. She told BBC Sunday Politics that the governments immigration target of tens of thousands would stay in place. “Well, you know, we had a referendum in 2016 which sent us a very clear message that people want to see that target remain. They want to see us reducing immigration to sustainable levels. And we’re doing exactly that. You’re right - it was there in the manifesto so that is the direction of travel,” she said.
Any change to the target, she said, could be based on what the Migration Advisory Committee concludes when it reports back in September. “We’re listening,” she said.
On the radio, Momentum founder Jon Lansman told John Pienaar on Radio 5 live that the current threshold for the number of MPs needed to nominate a leadership candidate was “too high”.
Corbyn, he said, was “fit and healthy” and not going anywhere soon. But said the rules should be changed. Many Labour MPs view lowering the threshold with suspicion and see it as a move to help left-wing candidates get onto the ballot.
Lansman told Pienaar: “I would like to see a further lowering of the threshold to make sure that all sections of the party have a candidate that supports the views that they hold.”
Also on Pienaar, new Tory deputy chairman James Cleverly was asked what he made of the prime minister telling him “I don’t think he’s ever had the kiss that he once asked for” during PMQs.
“She tantalising me, John, that’s what it is,” Cleverly replied. “It’s always nice when you’ve got a good personal relationship with your ultimate boss. And actually one of the reasons why she keeps making reference to that is that she does have a bit of a cheeky sense of humour that doesn’t always come across and every so often she takes the opportunity to deploy it and I think that’s no bad thing.”
The flirtatious comments between Cleverly and May stem from his previous appearance on 5 Live when he said he would “snog” the prime minister in any game of ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’.
Someone please make it stop.