Hilary Benn, Labour MP and chairman of parliament's Brexit committee, believes the UK will not be frozen out of the European Union’s research framework programme after Brexit.
Why is your committee recommending that the government should guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK?
The committee that I chair has agreed on a report saying that the UK government should now take a unilateral decision to say to the EU citizens living here that they can stay. There has already been a great deal of uncertainty. We think, as a committee, that the government should give that commitment now, so you bring that uncertainty to an end and then, at the very start of the negotiations, ensure that the other 27 EU member states do the same for British people who are living abroad.
How can the UK government protect research ahead of the Brexit talks?
It is very important that the government doesn’t damage our industry or scientific research. My personal view is that we should remain within the EU framework programmes. I personally would like to see Britain to continue to support the Erasmus programme for students. But any European country participating in EU framework programmes must abide by freedom of movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice…
That depends. The British government has taken its view on free movement. But after all, this is a negotiation for something completely new. No major country has left the EU before. The EU could take the view that “this is outside the rules and it can’t happen”, or we can try to reach a mutually acceptable arrangement. We would obviously make a financial contribution for that to happen, and will have to define the arrangements for the movement of scientists as part of our new immigration policy. Just because it hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. In the same way, on a completely different subject, we should find a way of continuing to cooperate together on security and defence as European countries.
Aren’t you discouraged by the fact that Switzerland tried to achieve the same thing and failed?
Europe may say that we can’t participate. But, if Britain says it wants to participate and is willing to make a financial contribution to the programme, I hope that the EU will accept the offer. It would be in our mutual interest. I understand the 27 EU member states when they say that Britain can’t have as good a deal because we are leaving the club, but I hope that Europe would recognise that it is in our mutual interest as neighbours to find a way of making this work.
What if the UK government decides not to participate in any research programmes?
In my personal view, that would be a very retrograde step.
The Labour Party is not united on many aspects of Brexit…
Yes, there is a difference of view in the Labour Party in regards to freedom of movement as yet unresolved. My own view is that we should have a system with immigration control, but that Britain should commit, as part of the negotiations with Europe, to continue to prioritise European countries for migration into Britain, rather than developing an immigration policy that applies to the whole of the world. That would help to create a climate of more good will for the negotiations.
Is your party united enough to withstand the possibility Theresa May will call a snap election before the end of her mandate?
The prime minister has said that she is not going to call a snap election. To be perfectly honest, we’ve got a huge job on our hands as a country. We are about to embark on the most significant, challenging negotiations we have had to undertake since the end of World War II.
Should Labour be held to account for not making a clearer case in favour of remaining in the EU?
No, I absolutely reject that. We got more of our supporters voting to remain than supporters of the Conservative Party. I don’t think that the outcome of the referendum was down to the campaign that we ran. I don’t believe that, at all. I think the 52 per cent voted to leave because of many reasons: migration, change, a sense of loss and alienation, the continuing effects of the economic crash, a desire for greater sovereignty, and a desire for more control in a globalised world where sometimes we feel that we have very little control.
Labour MP for Leeds Central Hilary Benn, chairman of the House of Commons Committee on Exiting the European Union, was talking to Cristina Gallardo (Research Research)