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Cable: “Bad or no deal increasingly likely”

Exclusive interview:
"It’s begun to get through to the Tories that this is a catastrophic option"

  •  
  • "Great danger" of Conservative landslide
  • Tories have “boxed themselves in to negotiating position... simply shouting abuse... and how we’re going to teach Johnny Foreigner a lesson, all of this is making it more difficult to come to a sensible conclusion.”
  • "I’m not acting on the assumption that [Brexit] will necessarily happen.”
  • "I’m very clear that there is no upside in Brexit and probably quite serious economic damage but I don’t think it’s sensible to try and make precise predictions."
  • "The brutal truth is that it will be more difficult for the UK to negotiate bilateral agreements as a country of 60 million [people] than as part of a group of 500 million."
  • Introduce “sufficiently penal” tax to "bring ‘buy-to-leave’ properties back into active use."

 

He famously warned about the factors that led to the biggest financial crisis in decades, served as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills from 2010 to 2015 and is fighting in the snap general election to win back his old Twickenham House of Commons seat for the Liberal Democrats.

 

Vince Cable talks exclusively to Impolite Conversation about why Theresa May called the election now, Heathrow and (of course) Brexit.
 

IC:

I'm just going to ask one backwards-looking queston: If you could have done one thing differently during the coalition what would that be?

 

VC:

Well my starting point would be that I don’t regret that we joined the coalition, I think it was the right thing to have done. I think the mistake which we collectively made was not to have distinguished ourselves more clearly and forcefully from the Conservatives and explained more clearly why we joined the coalition. There wasn’t a problem with what we did, I think the problem was lack of communicating the basic message that we were acting in the national interest and working with other parties was the only way to deal with the aftermath of the financial crash [of 2008]. So I think there was a communications failure rather than a policy failure.

 

IC:

Why do think Theresa May called an election now, given how clear she was that she wouldn’t do so? I think she was on record as having denied she would at least six times*.

 

VC:

Well it was opportunistic. It’s primarily designed to secure a large majority for her personally, which she may well do. There are other theories about the expenses problems but I don’t know how real that was. I think the main reason was she saw an opportunity, with Labour in such a bad state, of greatly increasing the Conservative majority.

 

IC:

Earlier this year senior Indian government officials were apparently linking a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK with a loosening of visa restrictions for Indian citizens wanting to come here. Do you think we’re going to find lots more of that when negotiating trade deals with other countries post-Brexit?

 

VC:

I could have told them that that was going to happen because I’d negotiated with the Indians when we were negotiating an EU-India agreement and they made it very clear that they wanted access to visas for their skilled people and students and separately for visitors and that was a quid pro quo for improved market access. I’m absolutely amazed that the government didn’t see this coming. With other countries the issues are different but I think the brutal truth is that it will be more difficult for the UK to negotiate bilateral agreements as a country of 60 million [people] than as part of a group of 500 million. The Trump administration has already said that this is an issue of bandwidth, in other words they will deal with the big boys before the smaller boys.

 

 

[Aeroplane almost drowns Vince out as it comes in to land at Heathrow]

 

IC:

I don’t know if you heard the plane in the background there…

 

VC:

Yes I did and I heard [the noise] all night.

 

IC:

There’s got to be a question about Heathrow in here! Do you think that might be another reason the Tories called the election when they did, so that they can…

 

VC:

I don’t think it was the reason they called the election, but it is a damaging issue for them. You know, they did promise not to expand Heathrow then they did a U-turn and have supported it, which is making life difficult for their candidates. But the Lib Dems are very clear that the expansion of Heathrow is unnecessary; whatever business needs there are for better connectivity to new markets, it can be done at Gatwick and provincial airports.

 

IC:

Given Mrs May broke her word on the early election, do you think we can rely on her to keep her word that she’ll crash out of the EU without a trade deal, or do you think that the national interest will come first and, if she’s unable to get anything approaching a decent deal, she might actually look at u-turning on this as well?

 

VC:

Well I would hope so, and certainly Lib Dems would want to have the whole issue reopened if we get the alternative of a bad deal or no deal, which is unfortunately becoming increasingly likely.

 

IC:

I can’t quite believe the Tories would do something as rash as crash out in that way.

 

VC:

I think it’s begun to get through to them that this is a catastrophic option but the problem is they’ve boxed themselves in to a negotiating position that may well not lead to a conclusion. We are very dependent on the European Union reacting in a helpful way and simply shouting abuse at them and how we’re going to teach Johnny Foreigner a lesson, all of this is making it more difficult to come to a sensible conclusion.

 

IC:

And final few questions: Would you agree there’s currently a housing bubble in the UK?

 

VC:

Well there is a dangerous level of inflation in the housing market. I think it was fair to say in 2008 that it was a bubble fed by credit but there is also an underlying problem of lack of supply to meet growing demand. The failure to increase the number of houses under construction is a massive problem and of course it is feeding housing inflation with all its damaging consequences for the younger generation of house buyers and renters.

 

IC:

Speaking personally do you think that ‘buy-to-leave’ flats, as in flats or properties that are [bought and] left empty as investments, should be taxed?

 

VC:

Yes I do, and the tax should be sufficiently penal to bring those properties back into active use.

 

IC:

Is that a Lib Dem policy yet or is that a personal opinion?

 

VC:

I hope so but I haven’t seen our manifesto.

 

IC:

Assuming that we do go ahead with a Brexit, what sort of Brexit would you like to see?

 

VC:

Well I’m not acting on the assumption that that will necessarily happen but if the government is able to negotiate an agreement which keeps Britain within the single market rules and maintains the customs union and maintains our close research links with Europe, I think most people will probably settle for that.

 

IC:

The way things are heading it sounds like we won’t have those things, according to what the Conservatives have said. Is it going to be a pretty instant, dramatic fall off in the standards of living for most people in this country?

 

VC:

No, I wouldn’t predict that, I think that most of the serious economic analysis just is we’d be worse off, but I think a lot of damage was done by George Osborne and others by being over-precise in their estimates making claims that are very difficult to stand up. I’m very clear that there is no upside in Brexit and probably quite serious economic damage but I don’t think it’s sensible to try and make precise predictions.

 

IC:

And finally, what would you say to people who don’t see the point in going out and voting on June the 8th, both locally and nationally? So locally people in Twickenham who are not sure that a vote for you will make a difference and nationally people who don’t see that their vote is going to make a difference because it’s going to be a conservative landslide?

 

VC:

Well I would say the opposite, that their votes do make a difference in Twickenham because it’s a highly marginal seat, and that’s a very good reason for people to participate. Having me there means that you have, with other Lib Dems, a potentially strong opposition, there is great danger for the country if we have a Conservative landslide, a massive majority. We do need a proper opposition, the Labour party can’t provide it, so particularly having MPs who’ve got a good reputation for active working for their constituencies is a very positive thing to do.

 

IC:

Thank you very much.

 

All Impolite Conversation Interviews may be edited slightly for flow and clarity.

 

* We've found some of Mrs May's denials here; we'd dispute that it is all of them, as the article's title claims.

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