Conservatives do not have monopoly on wisdom, says Damian Green
Theresa May’s right-hand man in the cabinet, Damian Green, has said the Conservatives don’t have a monopoly on wisdom on the big issues facing the UK, including Brexit, social care, and terrorism.
Speaking before a speech by the prime minister on Tuesday in which she is due to make make an unusual plea for cross-party working, Green said the need for joint political working was a key message of last month’s inconclusive general election.
Green, who was appointed first secretary of state after the election, dismissed speculation about May’s future as “all nonsense” and insisted she was “the right person [to be prime minister] in these difficult times”.
But speaking to BBC Breakfast he said: “There are big issues facing this country. Not just Brexit … but counter-terrorism, improving the world of work, the issue of social care. I’m sure most of the people watching this programme will say that it’s possible that no political party has the complete monopoly of wisdom. We want to see our politicians working together. That’s that point the prime minister is making.”
He added: “That’s one of the lessons you can draw from the general election result … people want politicians to address the big issues and if they can do it across the divide of parties then so be it. There must be things we can agree on in terms of fighting terrorism, of dealing with social care of getting the best Brexit deal for Britain.”
May’s speech is timed to mark her first anniversary in office. Asked if there was anything to celebrate, Green said: “There’s a lot to do. Her ambition for this country is the same as it was a year ago when she stood on the steps of Downing Street and she said she wanted to make this a country that works for everyone.”
He also dismissed criticism of May’s robotic performances after a calling a snap election, but acknowledged problems in the campaign.
Green said of May: “She is a perfectly warm, compassionate human being. The election campaign had a number of problems, which we all know.”
He suggested there was another side to the prime minister, which didn’t come across during the campaign. “She is not only resilient and determined and hard-working and conscientious, all the things people accept about her, but of course she is a warm and empathetic woman as well. She is the right person in these difficult times. We have got a complicated Brexit deal to negotiate. It is exactly her combination of qualities that we need for the years to come.”
The prime minister’s speech on Tuesday will also launch a report on unfair employment practices by the former Labour adviser Matthew Taylor. Speaking later on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Green said that report was a symbol of the kind of cross-party working May would be advocating.
Earlier this year Taylor criticised the government’s budget U-turn over national insurance contributions for the self-employed.
Green revealed that Taylor’s report would not recommend higher national insurance for the self-employed. He said: “That’s not in Matthew Taylor’s report, he deliberately doesn’t make tax recommendations, and we won’t be revisiting that. The House of Commons has already spoken on that.”
Green also dismissed Labour’s plans to scrap tuition fees as too expensive, despite acknowledging the need for a national debate about student debt. “Angela Rayner, the Labour education spokesman, has admitted that one of the things they’d forgotten was that Labour’s promise to end student debt would cost £100bn,” he said.
Asked if the European court of justice could still have some jurisdiction in the UK in a transition period after the Brexit talks, Green suggested it would.
He said: “If there needs to be some kind of implementation period or transition period in certain areas after March 2019, which I think everyone agrees is quite likely, then the rules that operate in that transition period will by definition not be the rules that we have afterwards. That is a transition period that will last for a limited amount of time for practical reasons to make sure that business can have the certainty to carry on as we want it.”