Sir. John Redwood: ‘Having new constituencies- it’s exciting’| Interview
The Mallard thanks Sir. John Redwood for his time, as well as his wonderful and accommodating assistant Gloria.
Sir. John Redwood is one of the original Eurosceptics. He voted against the Common Market back in 1975 and has consistently upheld his anti-EU views. At 21, he was the then-youngest councillor elected in the country. Since 1987, Redwood has been MP for Wokingham, Berkshire. Older readers will remember his stints in both the Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet respectively. He challenged Major for the leadership in ’95 after the Vote of No Confidence and also went for the top job in ’97 after the Labour landslide. Though he has remained in the backbenches for the last fifteen years, he’s still a well-known politician amongst all ages.
How did Redwood become a Eurosceptic?
Redwood was asked by his employer to do an analysis and report on the Treaty of Rome, the foundation of what was then the European Economic Community. He tells me that upon reading it, he realised that this just wasn’t going to work for the UK, calling it ‘harmful’. Unlike many who voted in favour of continued membership in 1975, Redwood voted against it.
Was he confident about the 2016 referendum result?
Unlike many of his fellow Leave politicians and supporters, Redwood strongly believed that the country would vote to Brexit in 2016. Though the polling suggested differently, Redwood said that he believes in the ‘good common sense’ of the British people. He continued this by talking about how he felt that the EU had restricted us in many senses and that we had been indeed harmed by membership.
Does he think Theresa May tried her best?
Redwood is warm in his personal view of Theresa May, calling her both a long time neighbour and friend. That is not to say, however, that he approved of the way she handled the Brexit negotiations. He believes that the UK negotiators didn’t as enough and made far too many concessions. His main bone of contention was that we essentially tried to negotiate being in the EU without actually being a member.
Going back to the earlier argument against the EU, Redwood talks about how we were in a major recession when we joined in the 70s. That wasn’t the fault of membership, but it did get us off to a bad start, as we lost lots of industry. Redwood also talks about how the ‘establishment’ forced us into the Exchange Rate Mechanism, an ever closer union. Following on from this, we went through an awful recession.
What would he have done if he was Brexit secretary?
Redwood is straight about the fact we should have promised a No Deal from the beginning in order to get a better negotiation. He informs me that he advised both the PM and the Brexit Secretary of this privately, but did not get any results from it. Redwood also feels he would have struggled against the civil service. He didn’t want to jump the gun by immediately leaving without a deal, but wanted a proper negotiation first.
What does Redwood think of the deal?
Whilst Redwood says that he wasn’t ‘keen’ on the deal, he went along with it as he believed we needed to make progress in leaving. He’s hopeful that we won’t make further concessions, but believes the government’s current position is a good one. As repeated by many others, Redwood thinks it’s in the EU’s best interests to give us a good trade deal.
Who will leave the EU next?
Redwood isn’t sure, but is very genuine in wishing EU members well. He doesn’t want to necessarily encourage countries to leave, instead wishing them success and prosperity. From the beginning, Redwood believes it was clear we’d never be fully involved, such as when we did not join the euro or opted out of the Schengen agreement. It would be unfair of us to stay in to an organisation that wants to become a ‘United States of Europe.’ In terms of reforming, Redwood believes that a more centralised system with budget transfers would keep the EU afloat.
What should the focus be now Brexit is gone?
When it comes to prosperity, Redwood is the biggest cheerleader. He’s pleased the government is promoting growth and prosperity, and advocates for spending increases and tax cuts. Now we’re not longer under the EU state budget rules, we’re free to pursue bigger things. Redwood points to the coronavirus and how it’s affecting the economy. China is laden with sanctions, but we need to make a positive case for boosting growth.
Redwood also thinks it’s appalling that home ownership is falling and wants young people to ascend the property ladder. It’s an interesting point that he makes and it’s one that will be popular- like he said, everyone wants to own their own home. I’m certainly a fan of the idea.
Biggest regret in his political life?
Redwood admits that he’s voted for things he doesn’t agree to out of loyalty to the party. He cites the Iraq War as one such example. Whilst he had reservations from the beginning, he ‘lost the argument in the party.’ Redwood contends that it was indeed a mistake.
What would he do if he wasn’t in politics?
As someone who has been in both academia and business, he says that he would stay with both.
Should there be another Scottish referendum?
It’s a firm no from Redwood here. He was supportive of the first referendum, even if he disagreed with Scottish independence. It was a ‘once in a generation’ vote, so they should stick to their side of the bargain. Redwood points out that the SNP only got 45% of the vote in 2019 and that there was a similar level of support for independence- it’s not wanted.
What does he think of those like Anna Soubry who left the party?
‘I’m sad when anyone leaves the party.’ Whilst Redwood says this immediately, he believes it’s fair for them to leave a party they don’t agree with. They clearly disagreed with Brexit and says that they used every ‘parliamentary trick’ in the book to stop it. What he doesn’t understand is that they stood on the same 2015/2017 manifesto as him, yet didn’t speak up at that time. It seemed surprising to Redwood that they wanted to overturn Brexit.
Will the Tories keep their new voters?
Redwood is clearly excited about the new voters, saying as much himself. He firmly believes that we can hold onto those constituencies, so long as we prove that we are on the side of those who are aspirational. By keeping to prosperity, more jobs and housing, Redwood is sure that we can keep those voters in the next election.
The conversation ends there. It was fascinating to talk to such a lion in the Conservative Party. We can only wonder if the administration will listen to his thoughts, and if he will make those known.