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Liam Fox does not want to talk about the reshuffle, in which he was offered and rejected a post outside the Cabinet. He instead waxes eloquent about the need for the Conservative Party to include in its manifesto a new immigration policy based on the Australian points system.

His Commons office is adorned by a framed, hand-written letter to him from Margaret Thatcher dated 26 September 2002 in which she says:

“I have just finished reading your ‘Themes for Reform’ speech. It is brilliant. The points are clear and the language superb…every Conservative should read it.”

Dr Fox has a gift for the concise and energetic exposition of Conservative policy. In this interview, he offers his views on immigration, the European Union, and the folly of attempting to appease Vladimir Putin.

At the end of the transcript can be found his entertaining but perhaps not very enlightening dismissal of much of what has been written about him and the reshuffle as “nonsensical”, and his assurance that he has “no intention of causing any friction within my own party”.

But here, to begin with, is his explanation of why Thatcherism, far from being a narrow and constricting creed, is an open and liberating one:

“I joined the Tory party under Margaret Thatcher. As you know, I didn’t come from a traditional Conservative background. You didn’t join the Tory party in the west of Scotland in the 1970s. But when Margaret Thatcher talked about being one of us, it was about inclusion, not exclusion. If you believe what we believe, it doesn’t matter what your parents did or what house you live in or what school you went to or what colour you are. It’s incredible how on the Left people have never understood how that had such a strong appeal.

Whenever I speak, I say I regard myself as an unreconstructed free-market Thatcherite Unionist Eurosceptic Atlanticist, but above all a meritocrat. I think meritocracy is the founding principle of any successful society.”

ConHome: “It’s not a word that you hear quite so much nowadays.”

Fox: “Pity.”

ConHome: “Do you think the Tory party is less meritocratic now?”

Fox: “No. But I think we place less emphasis on meritocratic arguments.”

On immigration, Dr Fox takes a severely meritocratic approach: “I still think we’ve got room to improve on immigration. Because I think we have rather allowed this debate to be lost in confusion. People now, because of a good campaign by UKIP, tend to equate immigration and European immigration. And of course more than two-thirds of our immigration is from outside Europe, and only 18 per cent of our immigration is from eastern Europe. I’d like us to move to a frank Australian points system to ensure that the immigration we do have is the most appropriate immigration.”

ConHome: “This will make it more difficult presumably for family members.”

Fox: “It will. That’s the necessary quid pro quo.”

ConHome: “And will there be a problem in some parliamentary seats, do you think?”

Fox: “I don’t know. I think people do understand that if you want to get good integration over time, you need to both control the numbers, and you need to ensure that the people who are coming in are going to be contributing to the wealth generation of the country, not just the wealth consumption of the country. I think people would regard it as fair and reasonable.”

ConHome: “You pointed out that the European immigration isn’t overwhelming. But what would you do about that?”

Fox: “Well I think that as part of our renegotiation, we have to find ways of controlling who comes to the UK. I would have thought it was not impossible, when you’re talking about free movement of labour, to ensure that when people are coming, that there’s a job for them to come to, and they can’t come and claim benefits. Labour if re-elected are likely to go back to their previous position, which is effectively an open-door immigration policy.”

ConHome: “How optimistic are you that a points system will be included in the next Tory manifesto?”

Fox: “I would like to see it because I think there’s a very clear public understanding about countries like Australia and Canada and their points system. I think there’s one key characteristic of the British people above all else and that’s their sense of fairness. I think if people think it’s a fair policy it will get very widespread support.”

ConHome: “Have you discussed this with Lynton Crosby by any chance?”

Fox: “No. But I gave a speech about it.”  Earlier this month, Fox delivered a speech entitled Immigration, Integration and British Values to the Reform think tank. “And what was interesting was the very positive reaction that came from commentators on the Left.”

ConHome: “If there was a referendum now on our EU membership, would you vote to leave?”

Fox [without a moment’s hesitation]: “Yes. If the referendum were based on the current trajectory, which is towards ever-closer union. I have a real problem with the term ever-closer union. The logical consequence of ever-closer union is union. So I think the position is absolutely correct that we go for a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe. We see what we can get. I would like to go back to a common market or as close to that as we can get. There are clearly going to be two Europes. There’s going to be the Eurozone countries, and the non-Eurozone countries, and I think we should be trying to shape that debate. On the big issues, I think we are much closer to the centre of gravity of the British population than the Labour Party are.”

ConHome: “There is still this problem of being thought of as a party of the rich.”

Fox: “We’ve got to make the arguments. There’s definitely too much obsession with what do focus groups already say, rather than going out and leading a change in opinion. And that’s not a criticism just of the Conservative Party. That’s a criticism of modern politics.”

ConHome: “Which is one reason why so many politicians don’t sound authentic.”

Fox: “I think there’s a big market for authenticity.”

ConHome: “Though as I’ve written about you: ‘The candour that lends him authenticity could also sink him.’”

Fox: “Well it can. But I always think about politics in the same way I thought about medicine. To not tell a patient the truth because you think it might have been unpopular in the short term would have been regarded as completely unethical. You’d be up in front of the General Medical Council. So why does that not apply to politics?”

ConHome: “Well I think it should apply to politics. Although I suppose there are some patients who don’t want to know, or at least want to have the news broken gently.”

Fox: “That’s a different matter. How you break the news is different from not telling the truth.”

Dr Fox is trenchant on the folly of the EU’s policy towards Russia: “Appeasement’s got a bad track record. When Putin cut off Ukrainian gas we did nothing. When he had a cyber attack on Estonia we did nothing. When he invaded Georgia we did nothing. We didn’t do anything when our own red lines on chemical weapons were crossed. What message do you expect him to take? When you appease a bully, they bully more.”

ConHome: “So how do we show the bully now that we’re standing up to him?”

Fox: “Well we could be taking immediate steps, but we saw yesterday that their current European partners are not even willing to stop their defence exports to Russia, merely to limit future defence exports to Russia. Putin must be rolling about with laughter in the Kremlin, at the French decision to go ahead with selling them 1.2 billion pounds’ worth of Mistral naval vessels.”

ConHome: “We could have sanctions, couldn’t we, without the rest of the European Union.”

Fox: “And if necessary, we should.”

ConHome: “But the Germans think they’re vulnerable on gas and stuff.”

Fox: “A lot less vulnerable than they’ll be if keep appeasing Putin. For me this boils down to a point of principle. Putin’s doctrine is this. That ethnic Russians are not protected by the states in which they live, but by an external power, namely Russia. If you allow that principle to stand, there can be no international law.”

ConHome: “Could you just tell me what happened in the reshuffle?”

Liam Fox: “My view is the Prime Minister is entitled to choose whoever he wants to be in his government. He made me an offer which wasn’t an offer I was willing for a number of reasons to take. So I’m perfectly happy to continue as I am and as I made very clear, I want to be free to talk about the big issues of the day. The big issues of the day are the economy, security, immigration and Europe. They’re the issues I want to focus on. The really important thing is that we stop focusing on ourselves internally and start to concentrate our energy on stopping Labour coming to office. Because I think the havoc Miliband and co could wreak is too awful to even contemplate.”

ConHome: “The Mail on Sunday reported that you rejected the offer of a Foreign Office job outside the Cabinet with the words, ‘You must be bloody joking. I assume the ambassadorship to the moon is taken.’ Is that correct?”

Fox: “No.”

ConHome: “An invention? Where did that come from? I blush for my trade.”

Fox: “I didn’t realise you blushed.”

ConHome: “Ah well, I have a naturally ruddy complexion. But I can assure you it’s turned a deeper shade of pink.”

Fox: “I just don’t really fancy being out of the country for a lot of the time in the run-up to the election. This is a really important election, when the actual differences between the parties will be greater than they’ve been for a very long time. And we’ve got the Scottish referendum as well. I’ve no intention of missing any of these debates.”

ConHome: “But was the actual offer made to you via Gavin Williamson [David Cameron’s Parliamentary Private Secretary]?”

Fox: “Yes.”

ConHome: “Well that’s very bad. Offering something outside the Cabinet seems…”

Fox: “What’s done is done, and I’m not going to comment further on this. It’s a Westminster issue. I don’t think people out there are that bothered.”

ConHome: “Well on the other hand, the human touch can help.”

Fox: “As I say, what’s done is done. As I used to say to my patients, ‘There’s no point complaining about the air when there’s nothing else to breathe.’”

ConHome: “Well one can seek a cleaner air, or give up smoking. So this other quote, before we exhaust this paltry subject, about roughing up the Prime Minister, that was in the Sunday Times I think, you and Owen Paterson are going to rough Cameron up, when you’re not pouring drinks for Paterson.”

Fox: “I know. You tend to read a lot of nonsense in the press in July. This was more nonsensical than usual. I have no intention of causing any friction inside my own party. I have every intention of causing a lot of friction with the Labour Party.”

28 comments for: Interview: Fox propounds his points-based immigration policy – and agrees it would mean a fall in family migration

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