Theresa May’s Exclusive Interview after Calling for a General Election
Theresa May has told ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston, she is not “playing political games” after she called for an early General Election.
Robert Peston: Prime Minister, it’s a time of great global instability, North Korea, Syria. You have been accused of putting party interests, personal interest, ahead of the national interest. That’s right, isn’t it?
PM Theresa May: No, this is a decision that I’ve taken and I have taken it reluctantly, but I’ve taken it in the national interest.
I think it’s important we have this election now, it can strengthen the hand of the government in our negotiations to make Brexit a success and also enable us to set out our plan for a stronger Britain, taking Britain forward beyond Brexit.
Robert Peston: I mean, you said repeatedly until today that there was not going to be an early general election. As you say, you want a mandate from the people to negotiate the kind of Brexit you believe in, but the facts haven’t really changed…the narrow majority, the opposition of the Lib Dems and Labour to much of what you want to do. Nothing fundamental has changed, except the opinion polls which put you in the lead. So it is pragmatic, cynical self-interest?
PM Theresa May: No, this is about what is going to be in the best long-term interests of this country.
When I became prime minister last year, I believe what was necessary was stability for the country and that we ensured that the government was putting into place the decision that had been taken by the public when they voted to leave the European Union.
Now we have done that. We have provided that stability over the last nine months. We have triggered Article 50. The process of leaving the European Union has started, there is no turning back. We will be leaving the EU.
But it became clear while we were doing that the other political parties they threatened to vote against the legislation that would enable us to leave the EU, to vote against the final deal.
And what became clear is that although the people in the country have united and recognise the need to take the country forward, actually there are divisions here in Westminster.
And I’ve come to the view reluctantly that the only way, against that background, to ensure we can provide certainty and stability in the years ahead, is to have an election now and for me to ask the public for the support I need for the decisions that have to be taken.
Robert Peston: You, rather cuttingly, said to Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, that politics is not a game. She’s going to throw that back at you?
PM Theresa May: Politics is not a game and the problem is at the moment we have other parties who are playing games with politics.
I want to ensure that we can get on with the job of delivering on Brexit, making Brexit a success. I think the games that are being played by other parties jeopardise our ability to prepare for Brexit here at home and they weaken our negotiating hand with Europe.
I want us to have the strongest possible hand for negotiating with the European Union because I want to get the best possible deal for Britain. I want Brexit to be a real success for this country.
Robert Peston: Was there a specific moment when you changed your mind on this?
PM Theresa May: Well, as I say, when we were going through the Article 50 process, the opposition, the potential attempts to jeopardise or frustrate the process in the future became clearer.
And then before Easter, I spent a few days walking in Wales with my husband, thought about this long and hard, and came to the decision that to provide that stability and certainty for the future, that this was the way to do it, to have an election.
You know, I trust the British people.
The British people gave the government a job to do to in terms of coming out of the European Union and I’m going to be asking the British people to put their trust in me in ensuring we deliver a success of that.
Robert Peston: There are always risks when you go to the country. One specific risk relates to Scotland. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is bound to say to the people of Scotland that they should vote for the SNP to give her further support for her view that she wants to take Scotland out of the UK. Your hand could be weakened in relation to Scotland…?
PM Theresa May: I will be out there championing the cause of the United Kingdom. I believe that we are stronger as a United Kingdom.
I think this union we have between Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales is a very precious union, I think we all benefit by it.
And I will unashamedly be out there campaigning for the future of the United Kingdom as a united kingdom.
Robert Peston: So it’s also a critical juncture at the early start of Brexit negotiations, with EU leaders deciding essentially the structure of how to negotiate with us. Will you have the personal resource to put into those talks what’s necessary?
PM Theresa May: Well, yes, if you think about it, the timing that I said we will have of an election on the 8th of June means that over the next few weeks, we will be having our election campaign at the time when the European Union will be getting their decisions about what they want to have in terms of a negotiating strategy together.
So there is, if you like, this moment of opportunity for us to do this. To strengthen our hand when those formal negotiations start, once the EU has decided what their aims in the negotiations are, to be able then to go to Europe and say that the British people supported our plan for that future relationship with the EU and have supported our plan for a stronger Britain for the future, will be very important.
Robert Peston: A standoff between North Korea and America, an apparent standoff between America and Russia over Syria, these are quite scary times. Will you have the personal time and space to devote what’s necessary to ensure the security of this country?
PM Theresa May: Yes, I will and crucially I think at this point, where we have so many things happening across the world – not just what we are doing here in the UK in relation to the EU but all these other issues across the world – now is the time when the UK needs strong and stable leadership.
That is what I will be asking the British public to put their trust in me to provide for them for the future.
Robert Peston: Until finally, I think this issue of trust is so important. You said repeatedly it’s so important to rebuild the trust of people in politicians. How can you persuade British people that this isn’t just a sort of cynical taking advantage of a wide poll margin in the Tories’ favour?
PM Theresa May: Well, I think if people look at what I’ve done and what we’ve done in government since the Referendum vote, since I took over as Prime Minister, we have provided stability and crucially we have rolled our sleeves up, we have got on with the job, we’ve said we are going to deliver on Brexit.
We have taken that absolutely crucial first step, which is triggering Article 50. There is no turning back now. The UK will be leaving the EU. I think, I hope what people will see is I am somebody who likes to just get on with the job and get the job done and I want to do is to be able to do that for the future.
Deliver a real success of Brexit, deliver for working people up and down this country and deliver a future, an ambitious future for a stronger Britain in the future. I believe I can do that with a stronger negotiating hand in Europe and with the backing of the British people at an election.
Robert Peston: And in an emotional sense, having your own personal mandate rather than one inherited from David Cameron?
PM Theresa May: Well, I think the times have changed. I mean I was…obviously, I stood on the Conservative Party manifesto in 2015, but that manifesto was for a time when there was going to be a Referendum but there was a general assumption that we would stay in the EU.
Things have changed. We are leaving the European Union. We need to look now for a different future. That global Britain, that ambitious, strong, confident Britain, out there around the world, but also ensuring that there is prosperity and growth for everybody up and down the whole United Kingdom.
Robert Peston: Prime Minister, many thanks.
PM Theresa May: Thank you.