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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CNN International Special Brexit Coverage. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 14, 2019 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


RICHARD QUEST, ANCHOR, CNN: A very good day to you. I'm Richard Quest. We're at Westminster, the Houses of Parliament in London.

HALA GORANI, ANCHOR, CNN: I'm Hala Gorani. At this hour, the world is watching as yet another British drama plays out in the building behind us where the embattled Prime Minister has lost her voice. Lawmakers have plenty to say and Brexit is trying to find its feet.

QUEST: Now, for the third day rolling, we are watching the House almost in turmoil as they try to pass and reject various resolutions. The British Parliament today is going to vote on whether to delay departure from the European Union. And don't forget the amendments, one of them - one of those amendments would call for a second Brexit referendum, another could put lawmakers not government in charge of the process going forward.

And with all of the muscle flexing behind, much of what the U.K. can accomplish at this late stage depends on what the European Union is actually willing to do.

GORANI: Well, Bianca Nobilo joins us here with more. So we have four amendments and then the main motion, but essentially MPs are voting today on whether to delay this whole process all together.

BIANCA NOBILO, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's right and the Labor Party who have been pressured to support the amendment which would call for an extension but with a specific objective to have an extension for a second referendum with remain on the ballot paper. The Labor Party have even said, "We're not going to touch that today. We're not going to whip our MPs to vote for a second referendum today." It's all about the extension, one issue at a time.

QUEST: Why is that? I mean there are policies of second referendum, how fast has been screaming for a second referendum, they've got a chance to throw down the gauntlet. NOBILO: The thinking from the people I've spoken to in the People's

Vote campaign which has been pushing for the second referendum and MPs want to see it happen as well is that the timing has to be right. What they're afraid of is that there will be a vote on a second referendum prematurely. What they think needs to happen is for all other options to be exhausted first and then you're left with Parliament who can't solve this, so who can? the people who made the decision in the first place.

GORANI: So it could be premature as well perhaps to introduce some of these amendments that call for a second referendum. But even if the idea of a second referendum takes hold, then there is that crucial question of precisely what question you will ask the British people.

NOBILO: Yes, what would be on the ballot. There's been so much discussion about this. Would it be May's deal versus remain? Well, that looks unlikely because there isn't a majority for May's deal. There was a discussion about whether or not there would be three questions on the ballot paper and that could potentially split the leave vote if you had a deal versus leaving versus remaining. And then it's a complicated lengthy process to get that kind of legislation through the House of Commons.

QUEST: So let's talk about the government's motion, the Prime Minister's motion. It speculate or it puts forward the idea of a delay, two types of delay.

NOBILO: Yes.

QUEST: A short-term delay if her deal is passed or an agreement is reached, a long-term delay if nothing gets reached.

NOBILO: Yes, you summed it up quite well.

QUEST: Well, I'm saying that because - thank you, now you can tell us whether it's likely to pass because that is the options that many MPs have wanted.

NOBILO: It is and the government will need to whip the party in order to give this a good chance of passing. The reason that she's chosen the date that she has is because next week there's a meeting of the European leaders on the 21st of May, so she wants to see an agreement reached by the 20th of march in order to proceed and in that extent it would go to the 30th of June.

GORANI: Yes.

NOBILO: And the point that the Prime Minister is keen to impress upon MPs is that if her deal isn't passed, the extension she would need to ask for would have to be much longer in order to give Parliament the time to come to another type of consensus.

GORANI: Sure. This has been her strategy, "Vote for my deal or risk losing Brexit altogether." And I do wonder at number 10 Downing Street, Nina Dos Santos, what is the Prime Minister been to today in terms of her movement? Where is she now? Have we heard from her yet? NINA DOS SANTOS, EUROPE EDITOR, CNN: Well, we haven't heard her speak

but we've actually seen her. She in fact left the steps of number 10 Downing Street about half an hour ago. First time I might add in the last three days that I've seen her enter and exit this building via the front door.

She's been quite furtive over the last few days after, of course, those two spectacular defeats that the government had and she's also remember embarrassed during yesterday's vote on the no deal motion that her own government had put on the table.

[12:35:05]

She was embarrassed by a number of her own cabinet member who've decided to abstain and defied the government work who ordered them to vote against the government's own motion. And in fact we had a cabinet meeting here a couple of hours ago that lasted between an hour to an hour and a half. And many of those cabinet ministers filing out, looking rather somber in tone.

I might that there were in knit pairings of some of these cabinet ministers who had actually defied the government and abstained on that vote yesterday evening piling out together. That's interesting because a lot of people had been concerned that some of these ministers might face some disciplinary action if they did defy the government's wish to vote against its own motion.

Obviously, Theresa May can't afford to do that at the moment. Her government is in crisis and she can't afford to lose anybody on the remain side or either on the skeptic side. So as you're saying before we've got these four amendments that they're going to be considering in an hour or so's time in the House of Commons. As you're pointing out before Richard in your introduction, one of them gives time for a referendum, another one gives time for MPs to take back control, another one tries to show that there's enough time for Parliament to tell people where they could find a majority to take the Brexit process from here.

And the fourth amendment they're going to be voting on that's really interesting here is one that could suggest not giving Theresa May the opportunity to bring back that withdrawal agreement for a third time lucky.

GORANI: All right, Nina Dos Santos at 10 Downing Street, thanks very much. Our next guest is Stephen Crabb, a Conservative MP who backs Theresa May's deal. Thank you for being with us. So the Prime Minister has lost her voice but also the confidence of some Tory MPs because they voted against this government whip, they broke ranks with the Prime Minister.

STEPHEN CRABB, BRITISH CONSERVATIVE MP: So yesterday a number of government.

GORANI: No.

CRABB: But it's a curious vote last night, because the government had brought forward that vote itself saying we can bring forth our own opportunity for a Parliament to say, "Look, we're not going to leave the EU without having a proper deal in place. And the government provided very good reasons during the debate why the MPs should vote against a no-deal Brexit.

GORANI: But they didn't, she's losing the confidence of her own party.

CRABB: So it's quite odd that the government then turn around and wanted its own MPs to vote against an amended version of its own motion. So it's all very complicated in terms of parliamentary position but basically it is added to the muddle last night.

QUEST: Tonight is important because if any of the amendments pass and if the government's motion passes, for the first time, Brexit is put off. For the first time whole procedure has been started two plus years ago. This will be the moment where Brexit goes a little bit further away.

CRABB: That's absolutely the case and what was a natural consequence of the original defeat of the Brexit deal. In January, I think those people who have been following this closely knew then when that deal got voted down, there wasn't going to be enough time in the table left because as well as passing the deal you've got legislation to pass on the back of that.

QUEST: Right. But the first part of the Prime Minister's motion tonight is a short delay whilst the implementation, but that presupposes her deal gets through, MV3 bringing this back again next week. What on earth makes you think you can get it through the Commons when 149 votes against the other day?

CRABB: Well, there's a growing realization amongst colleagues of mine who so far haven't backed the deal and they haven't backed the deal because they've been holding out for a more perfect version of Brexit and there are different fractions over there who've got a different idea of what a perfect Brexit looks like.

But the penny is dropping. There's a realization that if Brexit in any form is going to be actually delivered in a reasonable time scale, then MPs need to climb out of their entrenched positions, stop holding out for perfect, and back a compromised plan which is the plan that's on the table.

GORANI: But it's backing them into a corner and essentially saying either you vote for my deal that so many of you dislike or risk a very long delay and possibly no Brexit at all. That has been the strategy of the Prime Minister.

CRABB: Yes, that's true. Thank is a function of the fact that this deal negotiated over an 18-month period with the EU recognizing that are complexities and trade-offs. It is the only show in town. There is no serious alternative ...

GORANI: How many times can you vote on a deal? How many times can you vote on a deal that has been so soundly defeated? I mean the referendum was seen as this final vote, the will of the people. Yet in a parliamentary setting, the Prime Minister keeps coming back, and back, and back, and back until she gets the result she wants. Isn't that a double standard?

CRABB: Well, I don't think it can carry on indefinitely and so I think we've got one more window of opportunity, one more go around the mountain next week, and if it doesn't pass next week, then we're into a much more serious situation, much bigger delay to Brexit.

QUEST: Donald Trump today has said, he's with the Irish Tshirt in the White House, it's St Patrick's day, and the President said - well he - but he basically said, "I told the Prime Minister this was not going to work.

[12:40:09]

And I told her to negotiate it in a different way." Which is true. That's what he said when he visited here last year. What do you make of the President saying that she's got it all wrong?

CRABB: Well, it's an easy thing to do is that from the advantage point of being 3,000 miles away and very detached from the situation we have here. The truth is we've had 40 years of tight integration of British trade and economic rules with the European Union unwinding that was never going to happen overnight.

It was never going to be a simple state of affairs and it's easy for President Trump to say, "Well, of course, you just got to be a bit more forceful. Have more confidence. Believe a bit more and bang the table harder." That actually doesn't resolve the complexities. Working out what you do with the Northern Irish border, working out what degree of alignment that you carry on having with manufacturing rules. All of those very detailed things that the Prime Minister is serious about resolving.

QUEST: Good to see you. Thank you.

GORANI: Thank you Stephen Crabb for joining us.

QUEST: Now, one of the biggest sticking points in the Brexit deal involves the Irish hard border. The question is what we've been talking about and even with the uncertainty looming.

GORANI: Right. And the Irish Prime Minister as we were discussing there with our guests took time out to uphold the St. Patrick's Day tradition of meeting with the U.S. president. Leo Varadkar and Donald Trump met a short time ago in the Oval Office and Mr. Trump talked about the Brexit ordeal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can tell you it's a very complex thing that's going on right now. It's tearing the country apart. It's actually tearing a lot of countries apart and it's a shame that it has to be that way. But I think we will stay right in our lane. We're doing fantastically as a country. Our economy is booming. We're the envy of the world. Other economies are not doing well and we're doing record business, so we're very happy about that and it's really great to have the Prime Minister of Ireland with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Our next guest. Well, let's bring in Abby Phillip. She's live for us at the White House and the President also had some things to say about striking a trade deal with the U.K. eventually.

ABBY PHILLIP, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's right. This morning on Twitter, the President announced that he would be very excited to broker a trade deal with the United Kingdom. That's something that he's been saying for quite some time that he's been looking forward to.

But interestingly, I mean, President Trump has been in favor of Brexit for some time and you might remember that when the President was in the United Kingdom with Theresa May about a year ago, they had a moment where the President basically said, "I told what you to do and you didn't listen to me."

Well, he repeated the same thing again today where he kind of tweet May saying, "I tried to give her advice. She didn't listen to me and it's really complicated, but I'm going to stay in my lane now and watch what happens." I don't know that President Trump at this stage has many advice for her other than he's waiting for the situation to be resolved for him to move forward with the kinds of bilateral trade deals that he believes more in than he does in multilateral trade deals.

He's been trying to do similar things all over the world, so it's no surprise that this is the way he views the future of the United Kingdom and this whole Brexit debate.

GORANI: And you say that the President is in favor of Brexit, why is that? How has he explained his support for essentially Brexit which breaks up the European Union as an entity?

PHILLIP: Well, this goes all the way back to the 2016 campaign when Brexit was still being actively deliberated in the public in the U.K. President Trump was a candidate for President of the United States and he viewed Brexit as something similar to what he was trying to run on which is a desire to maintain a country's borders, a country's individual identity to not have the sort of - in his view a kind of porous border situation that the United Kingdom had been in because of their membership in the European Union.

So he was in favor of Brexit at that time even when the United States government led by Barack Obama was opposed to it. So President Trump has been in this world for a long time. It's not clear to me though that he is really kind of enmeshed in all of the nitty-gritty details why this has become so difficult for the U.K. but he views it as an issue of sovereignty and that's why he identifies with the effort that the Brexit campaigners have been trying to do since 2016 and even today. QUEST: Abby Phillip in Washington, thank you. A reminder of why we

are here ...

[12:45:00]

... this is the third day of which the House of Commons is going through a series of votes caused by the British government to decide exactly what it is. Now, it is worth reminding ourselves where they've already decided they didn't want Theresa May's deal. That was day one. Yesterday, they've decide they didn't want a no deal Brexit in any circumstances, the amendment passed and tonight --

GORANI: Well, tonight they're going to vote on whether or not they want to extend Article 50 or risk that no-deal Brexit that they voted against yesterday. We're minutes away from today's key vote in about 15 minutes' time. More of CNN's special Brexit coverage live from Parliament when we return.

All right live pictures here of the House of Commons. You have demonstrators both for and against Brexit. They are quite vocal. One lady in particular has been screaming no Brexit since dawn. I'm a little worried for her vocal chords. She's quiet now. Our next guest is Jim O'Neill, former Commercial Secretary to the Treasury and the current Chairman of the Chatham House and also the former Chief Economist at Goldman Sachs. Thanks very much for being with us.

JIM O'NEILL, FORMER COMMERCIAL SECRETARY TO THE BRITISH TREASURY: Nice to be here amongst this mayhem.

GORANI: You were remainer ...

O'NEILL: And you just bring this along with you to have something.

GORANI: Well, everywhere we go Richard and I attract hecklers and alike. You were a remainer in 2016 but you don't believe Brexit is as bad as you thought it would be back then today, why not?

O'NEILL: I'm not sure that's true. I don't think it's as important as dramatic and all the rest of it, it is. In terms of issues facing Britain's long-term future, whatever the hell these lunatics decides today and next week, it's not actually as important as a lot of other things. That's what I really know.

GORANI: OK.

QUEST: I mean I assume you're talking about things like productivity, education, fundamental things that go into the structure.

O'NEILL: Yes, exactly.

QUEST: Right. Right, but if there's no money or if the economy suffers because of Brexit, there's less money available. Now, the numbers I saw --

O'NEILL: Listen, there's no two ways about it, any way we get out is not as good economically as being in. But in the context - to put in the proper context, so the highest independent absolute loss to GDP I've seen anybody responsible say it's about minus 11 percent over 15 years. Britain's on the shoes on productivity in the past decade compared to before is 16 percent.

QUEST: But it just means then that the country won't feel as wealthy. It's in the case of lost opportunity.

O'NEILL: There's no two ways about it in my opinion.

GORANI: But it's not just what you can just quantify, it's also the freedom of movement ending, the fact that you won't have as many great minds coming ...

(CROSSTALK)

O'NEILL: ... in going to the core of why so many people did go out and still - part of the problem the second referendum guys have got there's no real appetite in the country for it.

[12:50:10]

GORANI: Yes.

O'NEILL: I mean they need to realize that.

GORANI: But that could change.

O'NEILL: Maybe. The evidence has to build - because it goes to the - it's all on circular issue. A lot of people in many parts of Britain think, "Listen, a bit of disruption will shake all of these lunatics in the square mile in Westminster. We're not going to suffer. It's about time these guys woke up and did something about us. And the one thing - there's no sign of it because the Parliament isn't sure saying it, but if the shock of all of this madness and you can see the way political parties are collapsing, consequential ones, it forces people to really deal with the big issues that affect a lot of people in this country, then actually the pain might be worth it, ultimately. Ultimately.

QUEST: What about the Europeans --

O'NEILL: I don't really think it is but --

QUEST: The EU side and their decision as to how long to give the U.K. whether or not a short extension, a long extension, at the end of the day, I mean what would you think?

O'NEILL: I personally play hardball if I were them. I would be like, "Listen, you guys have knocked us around for so long, should have started out by saying what is the minimum price you need to show the world that's going to cause this damage," because our whole - negotiating on top of how silly it is in the first place, the whole approach technically has been crazy.

Obviously, the EU has to demonstrate Britain is going to lose by leaving otherwise why wouldn't Italy or Dublin ... GORANI: But taking no deal off the table and you think strategically

that's a bad idea?

O'NEILL: No, I don't. No, I don't. Because going back to the issue of the damage, that would guarantee severe transition cost of leaving.

GORANI: But taking it off the table some MPs were telling us yesterday they believe that removes leverage.

O'NEILL: No. No. I think it's - of all of the madness of the past couple of weeks, I think it's forced this ERG crowd to say, "Hey, guys you think --

GORANI: The hard core Brexiteers.

O'NEILL: ... you're really smart, guess what, you're just being found out as many of (unintelligible) you're not that very smart, because you're put in a corner. That's like do we actually want to leave or do we want to stay on --

QUEST: Have they shot themselves in the foot, have they so forced the issue that the idea now is if you wanted to leave, you're not going to get what you wanted.

O'NEILL: Yes, clearly. They've done it - they did it - the day they called for the vote of confidence in the leadership, they screwed it up completely and they've learned nothing from that and they sort themselves into such a point where a ridiculously weak Prime Minister has actually gamed them pretty well.

QUEST: Good to see you.

O'NEILL: We'll see what happens.

GORANI: Thank you. Thanks for coming on.

O'NEILL: All right, pleasure.

GORANI: We'll be right back after a quick break. We're eight minutes away from the first vote.

QUEST: Abingdon Green just outside of Westminster. It's a busy scene today. You can see from the various protestors both sides, the world's media for and against Brexit, the protestors, not the media. And then the lady with the lusty voice who is absolutely managing to - we're looking for that (unintelligible) last all the way to seven o'clock I'll tell you that.

GORANI: Well, it is - I will find her maybe, eventually. Equally chaotic inside the Chamber right now MPs are preparing to decide whether they want Brexit delayed in an astonishing turn of events.

[12:55:09]

Who would have predicted two years ago that it would have all come down to this. Bianca Nobilo and Carole Walker are here as we wait for the first vote to be cast on the first amendment.

QUEST: What should we watch for on this first amendment, is it going to pass, first of all?

CAROLE WALKER, POLITICAL ANALYST: At the moment it's looking unlikely it's going to pass. If you'd ask me a week ago, I would have said no chance, but there is so much volatility, so much uncertainty that any predictions are pretty dangerous at the moment.

QUEST: Is it being whipped?

WALKER: If the government is whipping against the first amendment, the government is whipping against all of the amendments, but allowing a free vote on its own motion unless any of those amendments pass.

BIANCA NOBILO, POLITICAL ANALYST: Just like last night.

WALKER: Indeed. Indeed. But on this first amendment is whether MPs think that there should be a second referendum. Now, the general thinking has been that MPs do not want to vote for that because they feel that they still have a responsibility to deliver on the result of the first one. But given the huge uncertainty that we face after the events of the last week or so, it is just possible that more of them will decide that it's time to go back.

NOBILO: But it's significant that the proponents of the second referendum do not think now is the right time to be bringing it forward and voting on it. I was in Parliament earlier and I was watching the debate and it really did strike me. It was about two or so hours ago and there was a really tense moment between a member of the Prime Minister's own party John Hayes and an MP who crossed over from the Conservative Party and defected to this new party over Brexit and there were shouts of "you're a disgrace" and the tone of the debate was so sour and it is telling what Brexit is doing to the State, to politics and that was being said by MPs.

I know that people can say the media is sensationalize this, but I'm paraphrasing lawmakers when I say that they are scared about what this is going to do to how Briton is perceived all around the world and what it's done to the U.K. as an example of democracy.

GORANI: If we expand beyond the U.K. to the world, why should people outside the U.K. care about this, Carole?

WALKER: Well, clearly the U.K. has been a major player inside the EU for decades and the terms on which it leaves are hugely important. People could go back and point to all kinds of mistakes over the negotiations. But I think just a general state of confusion and chaos, the complete loss of the Prime Minister's authority and the uncertainty about what Britain's future place is in the world really will, I think, have a huge impact not just on its nearest neighbors, the European Union but on other countries including the United States who are wondering what sort of future trade arrangements they might have in the future.

QUEST: How does Britain not end up looking like a laughing stock? NOBILO: Well, I think it does even the trade negotiators for New

Zealand, said a few ago that if this is how Britain is conducting any form of negotiation, it does make you raise an eyebrow wanting to have further negotiations of that country on any basis. And I think even though full disclosure, I guess, I'm a bit of a political idealist, obviously, I used to work there but I think if you do care about democracy and you care about what Britain stands for and how all of these conventions have evolved over the centuries and influenced all of these other countries, the fact that Britain isn't able to resolve a problem that it brought upon itself by offering a public referendum, certainly does huge unquantifiable reputational damage.

GORANI: And also outside of the U.K. if you look at other countries, eurosceptic leaders in other countries, some of the newer members of the European Union who are looking very, very carefully at what's going on in this country in the United Kingdom to see if they could exploit some of these political trends for their own benefit, right?

WALKER: Absolutely and I think that is part of the reason why now many MPs here, many conservative MPs are determined that as soon as we get beyond this immediate political crisis, Theresa May will have to be persuaded, forced in some way to stand aside because there is this real feeling that the country and the party need some fresh leadership to go through the trade negotiations.

Don't forget that all we're talking about here is the terms of the departure. No one is even talking seriously about the future trade relationship yet and I think people will be looking for fresh leadership before we get to that stage.

QUEST: Can I just offer a different perspective that as we're waiting for the vote and I think the Brexit minister will be sitting down any time now and the speaker will call it. But these men and women in the House they're fighting for what they believe in.

NOBILO: They are.

QUEST: They are fighting - this is, and I agree that you got to use a hard argument to make a (inaudible) but this is democracy in action and it's messy. And here we go. Let's listen in.

[13:00:05]

JOHN BERCOW, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: On the motion I begin by calling the Honorable Member for Totnes, Dr. Sarah Wollaston, to move amendment H formally.