WATCH: Emily Thornberry grilled by Andrew Neil

Sienna Rodgers

Labour leadership candidate Emily Thornberry volunteered for a grilling by Andrew Neil on his BBC programme on Wednesday evening. They covered a wide range of issues, from Brexit to education policy.

Asked what wrong with the 2019 general election, the leadership hopeful reiterated her view that the key problem was holding it at all and that Labour should have pushed to hold another EU referendum first.

On what her top policy priority would be as Labour leader, she answered that it would be social care – as Jess Phillips said before pulling out of the race – and Neil argued that this would not be “distinctive” to her leadership as all candidates agree with Labour’s current plan.

Thornberry declared that voters did not believe Labour’s green industrial revolution offer, explaining: “If they don’t believe that we can even deal with antisemitism in our midst, they will not believe that we can lead a green industrial revolution.”

Asked about her flaws, she replied: “I get impatient with people”, and then added: “I don’t like disloyalty.” Neil repeatedly said that this was not a flaw of hers, but Thornberry insisted that it was linked to her impatience “with people who leak things”.

Accused of being “the epitome of Remain”, Thornberry replied: “Unfortunately we’re going to be leaving the EU.” She added that “no right thinking person” thinks the government will get a Brexit deal by the end of the year.

She confirmed again that she is pursuing legal action against Caroline Flint over her claim that Thornberry called Leave voters “stupid”, saying: “Yeah, I’m taking her to court… You know, people can have a go at me, but they don’t make up lies.”

The contender was shown a clip of her laughing when Dawn Butler told an event that there was “something wrong with you” if you backed Brexit. Thornberry said: “I was quite shocked… that’s why I laughed.”

Thornberry repeatedly denied that she was “sneering” at Brexit voters, adding: “I really object to this. You know, when they say that I sneer at people, they forget who I am and where I come from.

“You know, it is the Prime Minister who has said that blue collar workers like my brother who’s a builder are largely unemployed, have low self-esteem and are drunk.  He’s talking about my brother. No one says that Boris Johnson sneers at people.”

She raised the Channel 4 focus group in which participants who voted Tory in 2019 and Labour in the past appeared to favour her candidacy. “When I talk to people from outside the Westminster bubble, they know that I listen and they know that I learn from people,” Thornberry said.

But Neil presented YouGov polling that showed Thornberry her favourability rating with voters as -15. The candidate said: “I haven’t seen it before so I don’t know what it is.”

In the quickfire round of questions, Thornberry:

  • Wouldn’t commit to continued freedom of movement (“it has to be subject to negotiation and we have to keep an open mind on it”)
  • Wouldn’t scrap HS2;
  • Wouldn’t scrap Trident (“it would cost more to scrap it now than to continue with it”);
  • Said she “would do anything to protect our country” when asked if she would use Trident;
  • Does not support open selections or mandatory reselection;
  • Confirmed she would renationalise rail and mail, but did not agree on water, energy or broadband.

She replied “I believe in a comprehensive system” when asked about the role of selection in the state school system, but Neil pointed out that she sends her son to a partially selective school.

After arguing with Neil about whether it was a partially selective school or a comprehensive, Thornberry concluded: “As a mother, I will never apologise for doing the best for my kids.”

Asked about the view expressed by the Board of Deputies that “Shami Chakrabarti’s report was a whitewash”, Thornberry said she did not agree, saying: “They were wrong about Shami’s report.”

She insisted that she would gain enough local party nominations to get through to the final round of the leadership contest, telling Neil: “I’m up and down the country talking to members at the moment and it’ll be up to the members in the end.”

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