As the Brexit talks enter a crucial phase, Asian Lite meets Sir Graham Stuart Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West since 1997, the Chairman of the 1922 Committee. Arguably the most powerful parliamentarian after the Prime Minister in the Conservative fold, Sir Graham has served as a Shadow Minister for Europe under four Conservative leaders before resigning in 2007 to protest David Cameron’s opposition to grammar schools. Now the party is toeing his line. In the 2016 EU referendum, he was a strong supporter of Brexit. But unlike other politicians, Sir Graham stays away from the media limelight. He will only appear on telly or give quotes whenever it is unavoidable. Sir Graham was appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 2018 New Year Honours list for political and public service. Asian Lite’s Kaliph Anaz meets Sir Graham.
Are you happy with the way that the government is functioning now? There are many unfinished issues – Windrush, NHS, Customs Union and Brexit talks…
Government is a difficult business. New challenges or things that crop up unexpectedly. I think when you have a tiny majority in the Parliament, or no overall majority in the House of Commons, it magnifies the difficulty of doing things. The Windrush situation was mishandled, and everybody acknowledges that… the Prime Minister apologised, the Home Secretary apologised. And it caused distress for a number of people, that’s something which is deeply regretted.
I think the government has acted quite quickly to make sure the measures are taken to support people who have faced problems of it. It is also important to recognise that this was an unintended consequence of a policy which is quite right.
Are you happy with the way the Brexit talks and planning are going on?
Yes. The government is performing well. Theresa May is providing a steady leadership for the country in difficult times. And I think the public appreciate it. I’d be delighted if it was possible to reach conclusions to the Brexit negotiations more quickly. We had 43 years of our laws being made partly in Brussels. It was always a complicated thing to unplug. So it will take some time to do it.
Some sort of financial payments were always predictable. It was always going to be the case that there would be generous open settlements found for EU citizens currently living and working in the UK, and reciprocal arrangements for British citizens living and working in the EU.
It is unheard of that people move from tariff-free trade to imposing tariffs. So we will have a free-trade agreement with the EU which will have tariff-free trade in goods. The customs arrangements will be in terms of checking the standards and regulations. They need some procedure for that.
We should start by looking at what we know is on the table. EU is agreed on a very open free-trade agreement with Canada, for instance. We could very quickly agree a deal which is the same as that with Canada. Our aspiration is something which is closer and deeper, which has more access to trade in services particular as well as goods.
Do you want the party to be united behind May over the Customs Union?
Absolutely. I think, those politicians who said otherwise haven’t recognised the opportunities that come as we leave the EU. To leave the EU, but remain in the Customs Union means the inability to agree to free-trade agreements with other countries like India, China and the USA. There are many countries around the world, some of them are rapidly growing markets internationally, where the EU have been incapable of establishing a free-trade agreement.
After leaving the EU, UK is free to make new trade arrangements with anybody. I think it’s important that we have that freedom and flexibility. (Staying) outside the Customs Union is the first step towards that. So we need to unite behind May in this mission.
We need to retain a very close free-trade relationship with the EU, but also have the freedom to have closer ties with the other countries of the world too.
Do you think the decisions or the differences over the Brexit is giving wrong signals to the British public and international audience?
Yes, I do. I think it’s one of the regrettable things. Right to have a lively debate in our own country is acceptable but I think people have to recognise that when they give reason to others, in particular the EU 27, to wonder how strong the British government is, it does not work for us. The negotiation position of our own country is weakened. And the position of the other side of the negotiation is strengthened.
I do think the politicians have to reflect on how far what they are doing and saying is actually saving or harming the national interests.
Are you happy with the way Jeremy Hunt is running the NHS?
Yes, I am. He is passionate about NHS and about making sure the NHS thrives and continues to get stronger in the future. The NHS is a massive organisation and it is showing results. People are living longer and the treatment plans are changing. Every action adds more pressure on the NHS. There is not a simple problem to solve. What it takes is commitment, dedication, and I think that it’s getting that from Jeremy Hunt.
We have arrived at some conclusions about how the NHS should be funded, and what the scope of activities should be.
Do you think the front bench needs more new talents? The government lost people like Priti Patel, Michael Fallon, Damian Green and Amber Rudd.
I think there are very good people on the front bench. As the Chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee I prefer new talents to join the front bench. There is no dearth of talents on Conservative back bench. Positive things have been seen over the last couple of general elections – some very bright, capable new Conservative members of parliament coming into the House of Commons. A lot of them are very talented and will be cabinet ministers in the near future.
What’s your take on Sajid’s elevation to the Home Office?
Politics is an unpredictable business. Things can move very quickly. I think Sajid is a capable colleague, and I am pleased to say it was a sensible appointment. I think his track record is very good.
What’s your take on Indo-UK relationships? Recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi was here and signed many agreements.
It’s a very important relationship. Obviously, there is an enormous historical connection. I think it’s true to say that over many decades the UK has failed to work as hard as we should have done to maintain and build the relationship particularly from the trading point of view. I hope one of the outcomes of Britain leaving the EU will be to focus far more on building those relationships, and particular with India, a massive country, a massive market, because we have things in common and things that divide us. But I think the similarity of legal systems, the fact that India has maintained a successful democracy for the last 70 years. And on such a scale, it’s a remarkable achievement. And of course, we share the English language which makes so much easier to have an effective diplomatic partnership and also to do business between two countries.
Are you happy with the way the unelected House of Lords is behaving on Brexit and other parliamentary businesses?
I think it is very difficult in a modern democracy, to justify an unelected group undermining the procedures of an elected chamber. If it was an elected upper house, it would have a more democratic legitimacy and will be in a strong position to challenge.
So I think, under our current constitutional arrangements, of course, the House of Lords has got the right to behave as it does. I think it would be appropriate and sensible for the House of Lords to behave with greater restraint, recognising what is perfectly proper to amend the EU withdrawal bill in ways that improves it as a piece of legislation. It is entirely improper to seek to amend it in ways that it is aimed to frustrate Brexit altogether. And for an unelected house to stand in the way in this country where 17.5 million people who voted to leave in a referendum is not right. The government must obey the decision made by the people.