ConservativeHome put 15 questions – some from the editorial team and some from ConservativeHome readers, submitted in our recent appeal – to each candidate for the Party leadership. The first 14 questions were put to every hopeful, and the final one varied for each candidate.
Here are Rory Stewart’s answers to ConservativeHome’s 15 questions:
1. Theresa May suggested there should be “an end to austerity”. Was she right or wrong – and why in either case?
She was right. Getting a grip over our public spending was absolutely necessary, and we should be proud of our record as a party in bringing the deficit under control and restoring discipline to management of the public finances. We are now in a position where we are able to increase spending on some key services, such as education, health, local authorities, policing and prisons, where small increments can have huge impacts. We must also invest to get ourselves in the best position to take advantage of the opportunities of the green economy. I would also borrow against marketable assets where this makes sense, for example to kick-start house-building across the country.
2. ”The UK should set a zero carbon target for 2050.” Do you agree and if so why?
I agree. We face a man-made global climate emergency as ice sheets retreat, forests are lost, and ecosystems destroyed. I’m proud that the UK is a global leader in cutting carbon while growing our economy, a transition creating huge opportunity and employment across the UK in new low carbon goods and services; and much of the change required, for example the shift to electric vehicles and tree-planting, comes with wider benefits in air quality, public health and well-being. The UK played a key role internationally in securing the landmark Paris agreement, and has led by example showing that cutting carbon is an opportunity not a threat. A Net-zero target would help us build on this success, increasing the chance of meaningful global action and giving the UK businesses a lead in new global low carbon markets. In my first month as Secretary of State at DFID I have announced my intention to double the amount of money within our budget that the department spends on the climate and environment, as a clear signal of my desire for action in this area.
3. What would you do to strengthen the Union?
I am a passionate Unionist – part Irish, part Scottish, part English. I set up the Hands Across the Border group during the referendum on Scottish Independence. As Prime Minister I would seek to build on this record to heal some of the tensions that have bedevilled our Union in recent years. I am clear that a No Deal Brexit would do immeasurable damage to our Union, and so have ruled it out. This is particularly true in Scotland and Northern Ireland where secessionists see No Deal as the ultimate opportunity to seize their objective. I do not believe that any leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party should take such a reckless gamble. Instead, I will establish the position of First Secretary of State for the Union, with real heft and budget within Government, to ensure that, as we leave the EU and build a greener, fairer future for our country, we look to strengthen our Union wherever possible. I have already visited Scotland and Northern Ireland as part of my campaign and I passionately believe that more dialogue and understanding between our constituent nations will help strengthen us. One of the ways I would seek to foster this is through an enhanced National Citizen Service. This would be a compulsory month-long programme bringing together 16-17 years olds from all over the UK to develop life-skills and build relationships that will help better prepare them for adult life.
4. From reader Penny_Change: Will you commit to cancelling HS2?
Major infrastructure projects are crucial to the economic well-being of the country and to opening up growth, jobs and opportunity for all regions of the UK. At the same time, infrastructure must be focused on the needs of individuals and communities, and not just be dreamt up by planners in London. I believe we need to revisit the question of how we assess and compensate the social and environmental impacts associated with large development projects, so that a fair view of the impacts is considered alongside the economic benefits. On HS2 and HS3, I would commission a rapid review from independent experts to draw on views in government and the regions, to ensure that costs are controlled and that the projects work for the whole country. My personal instinct is that we should prioritise infrastructure investment in the North of England – and in particular the route across the Pennines – linking Leeds and Manchester for example, and Newcastle and Carlisle. But above all what matters is getting things right, not building something we regret.
5. What is the right level of immigration for Britain?
I do not believe in fixed immigration targets. Although it is clear that many communities have faced integration difficulties and pressure on public services from the high levels of net migration we have experienced in recent years, it is also true to say that new migrants have filled many essential public and private sector roles that would otherwise have gone unfilled. To me, what matters is not the absolute number, but the way in which we manage migration. It is right that we should demand democratic domestic control over this process.
I believe our approach to immigration should be governed by three key principles. Firstly, we should not tolerate people arriving or remaining in the UK illegally. We need to tighten up and speed up our processes for identifying, assessing and deporting illegal migrants. Secondly, we need to ensure a level playing field for public services. Local areas need to be allocated additional resources to swiftly respond to the impact of population growth, and a flexible scheme needs to be created to ensure that migrants make their fair share of contributions to longer-term public services such as health, adult social care and pensions. And thirdly we need to ensure that migration is more clearly managed around skills shortages, while retaining a system that is not excessively costly or bureaucratic for businesses.
It is important that the UK retains its reputation as a welcoming, tolerant country that is a good place to invest and do business, but we need to see our own government in control of a well-managed and transparent immigration system.
6. Is the internet a threat to be contained or an opportunity to be unleashed?
It’s already clear that it is a huge opportunity. The internet has transformed commerce, created new business models, driven academic collaboration and given a voice to ordinary people from the Arab spring to the #metoo movement. What is also clear however, is that many of the norms and safeguards that protect citizens in day to day life have yet to evolve online. The collection of reams of personal data, and its use in creating bespoke, targeted messaging, means those with the resources to invest in these powerful new tools can have an unprecedented impact on individuals’ choices; children are free to interact in online communities where there is little parental oversight of content, or protection against criminals; and those with malicious designs on our nation are often free to collaborate and organise. The UK is well placed to lead the world in a robust but proportionate response to these threats.
7. Do you agree that the NHS is an expression of British values?
Absolutely. The enthusiasm with which the country seized on the introduction of the NHS after the war shows how deep-rooted a belief in a universal health care system, free at the point of access, is in the British psyche. The NHS is an important tool of redistribution from the better-off in society to those with lesser means, and I think for many who work in the NHS it is this sense of fairness and inclusivity which underpins much of their pride in the work they do. However, we desperately need to confront the longer-term sustainability of our health and social care system in order to ensure that we can retain this unique expression of British values in the form we all treasure. That is why a core component of my platform is a comprehensive cross-party review of future NHS and social care funding, aimed at creating a stable cross-party consensus for the future. We have kicked the can down the road for too long in this area, and it is essential that our next leader takes up the challenge and converts the excellent thinking that has already been done into practical action.
8. Would you be prepared to take Britain out of the EU without a deal at the end of October if necessary?
No. For three reasons. First, I fail to see how any Prime Minister could knowingly inflict the economic, security and social price of a No Deal exit on their own citizens. The economic cost of abruptly establishing trading frictions would be paid in jobs and investment and would likely be felt most acutely by those that can afford it the least. The effect of casting aside all of our security arrangements with the EU would be to render people less safe and would set back the work of our security services and our police for a generation. And the social effect of inflicting the most extreme form of Brexit on communities, particularly in Northern Ireland and Scotland where Sinn Fein and the SNP would use it to call for further referendums, after three years of division, would be calamitous for our Union.
Second, I think a No Deal Brexit is very far removed from the promises that leave campaigners made during the campaign. The public were told that we would leave with a trade deal and so this is what we should do.
Third, we live in a parliamentary democracy, and Parliament has emphatically set itself against No Deal. I am deeply worried about the consequences of an executive trying to force through such a profound change against the wishes of democratically elected MPs. A lot of the Brexit debate has been about restoring power to Parliament. It seems perverse therefore to seek to ignore Parliament on this fundamental point.
No Deal is not a destination, it is a desperate leap into the unknown that would only further our division and uncertainty, and one that would leave us in an extremely weak position to begin to negotiate our future trading and security relationships with Europe and the rest of the world. It would diminish our country for generations to come.
9. Please complete the following sentence in no more than 30 words: “Conservatism is…”
I became a Conservative because I believe in limited constitutional government, individual rights, trust in tradition, love of country, prudence in foreign policy, and restraint at home. But I would now define it as realism and love.
10. From reader Graham, in Bristol: Why should I rejoin the Conservatives [under your leadership] from The Brexit Party?
Because Conservatism is about so much more than Brexit. And because under my leadership we will leave the European Union and focus on seizing the opportunities that arise from the freedoms we will regain. Brexit shouldn’t be an end in itself. It should be the platform on which we build a new Conservatism. My leadership of the Conservative Party will be about building a country for future generations, looking towards the 2030s. Nigel Farage doesn’t have, or seem to want, a plan beyond the moment we leave. My vision is for a fair, green and united Britain, so we can be proud of the country we leave to our children and grandchildren.
11. Pick one: No Brexit, a 2019 general election, or a second referendum this year.
Any one of those solutions would be the end of my political project. I believe in a Brexit deal – because I believe it is the only way to reunify the country. Every one of those options is divisive. The beauty of my plan to hold a Citizens’ Assembly to unlock Brexit and get a deal through Parliament is that it will avoid this invidious choice to which I feel every other leadership candidate is, knowingly or not, walking us towards. So not on my watch.
12. Should the Party Chairman be elected?
This is an interesting idea, which I’d like to look into.
13. From reader LieBertArian: What will you do to root out Islamophobia in the Tory party?
I will take allegations of Islamophobia extremely seriously, and make sure that cases are dealt with through the Party’s appropriate disciplinary channels. As with other forms of racism, we must have a broad discussion about kinds of Islamophobia and its impact on communities, part of which will be considering the APPG definition of Islamophobia, the principles of which I agree with.
14. From reader hertscommuter: What is the naughtiest thing you have ever done?
This is a slightly difficult question for someone who spent quite a number of years working in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I expect by naughty you mean something less intense. My mother would probably say that when I was nine, against her instructions, I sat on a cactus and she had to spend the next hour picking prickles out of my back side.
15. You’ve proposed a Citizens’ Assembly to resolve Brexit. Why would this be more legitimate than a referendum of all citizens? And would you follow its advice if it recommended No Deal?
A referendum will merely tell us what we already know: the country is split down the middle, and is deeply divided. Referendums are blunt instruments, forcing binary decisions on us. A Citizens’ Assembly allows us to move beyond the starkly black-and-white; it allows us to unlock Parliament, by bringing something new to the debate in the form of a public mandate for the direction of travel. It will expose all the nuance and complexity of the issue, in a radically transparent process in which randomly selected citizens from all across this country will take part. The evidence and recommendations that the Assembly produces will be presented to Parliament, which will then take account of this new evidence and the whole process which produced it. Parliament will then decide, given that, of course, it is sovereign.
>To read the answers of the other candidates, click here.