Dominic Raab appeared before the Committee For Exiting The European Union. I asked him about Vote Leave donations and called him out on the many worrying comments he has made over the years about our rights and protections.
Stephen Kinnock: Thank you, Chair, and thank you, gentlemen. You have been very generous with your time. Secretary of State, you have given your full backing to the Chequers agreement, a cornerstone of which is that we will uphold the rights and protections we currently enjoy as an EU member state. You are also on the record as having said, “I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don’t believe in economic and social rights”. You have said, “It is too difficult to hire and fire in this country. This is a major obstacle to growth.” In your 2011 report, “Escaping the strait jacket”, you said that you want to abolish the agency workers regulations and the working time regulations. You are also on the record as having said, “Feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious of bigots.” Is it accurate, then, to say that you support the piece in the Chequers agreement that says we want to uphold the rights and protections we currently enjoy as a member state of the European Union ?
Dominic Raab: Thank you for the full, detailed study you have done of my past greatest hits .
Stephen Kinnock: My pleasure .
Dominic Raab: On economic and social rights, my point—I wrote a book about this in 2009—is that, in relation to civil liberties and human rights, the liberal tradition of human rights in this country, along the lines of John Stuart Mill, Locke and Isaiah Berlin, has tended to be to protect civil liberties as human rights, which is a constitutionally superior brand of right that has trump status in the courts. In fairness—I have been critical of the Human Rights Act in the past, as you rightly say—the Human Rights Act’s approach is to protect civil and political liberties. It has not tended to include some of the economic and social rights contained in UN conventions. Actually, I am making a straightforward point about human rights. I have never argued that economic and social rights shouldn’t be protected in law. It was about the trump card status given to human rights under the Human Rights Act or any Bill of Rights.
On the working time directive, the Government has been consistent that we are not going to encourage a race to the bottom and diminish workers’ rights as a result of Brexit. I fully support that. The point I have made about employment and social legislation is that if you are mindful of the pressure that puts on employers and at the same time strike the right balance with workers’ protections—both of those things are crucially important—why on earth would you want to abdicate that to the EU and abdicate your democratic control? One of the crucial things we will have when we leave the EU is strong, bespoke standards that suit the economic and social conditions of this country. People like you and I, albeit we are from different parts of the political spectrum, will be accountable to our voters for it. That ought to be something we agree on.
On the feminism debate, the simple argument I always make is that the value of equality is too important for us to engage in double standards. I am fully supportive of all of our equalities legislation. I am a meritocrat to my core; I do not believe in positive discrimination. Fortunately, we have not gone down that path. It is important for you and I, as we share the value of equality and want to see it applied consistently, to call out double standards wherever they apply .
Stephen Kinnock: Thank you very much. I want to move now to the issue of the Vote Leave campaign. Obviously, given that you are now batting for Britain, it is very important that we have full confidence in the authority and integrity of that process. That relates to the fact that you were a member of the campaign committee for the Vote Leave campaign. I have got here a copy of the campaign committee’s terms of reference. It states clearly that one of the roles of the campaign committee will be “How Vote Leave will interact with other organisations promoting a Leave vote” and “The way in which fundraising is to be conducted and donations maximised.” As a member of that committee, which had clear responsibilities, as defined in the terms of reference, can you say what you knew about the relationship with BeLeave, which is of course the subject of the illegal donation from Vote Leave?
Dominic Raab: I was on the political campaign board, as you rightly say, and I am proud to have been so. We had no role in relation to the allegation or the disbursement of campaign donations, so I had no direct personal contact with BeLeave. I understand the point you are trying to make, and obviously the Electoral Commission should pursue it in the ordinary course according to the rule of law. I gently say to you that if what you are really trying to do is discredit the referendum wholesale and push back on it, I think that would create a far greater breach of public trust. What we all ought to be trying to do—I think your Select Committee has a crucial role—is trying to rally together, forge some consensus and unity of purpose and try and get the best deal .
Stephen Kinnock: Secretary of State, I gently say to you that I think this issue is far bigger than Brexit. I really don’t connect it to the referendum; I think it is an issue about the soul of our democracy and whether or not we can restore people’s trust in it .
Given the terms of reference of the campaign committee, of which you were active member and in whose weekly meetings I presume you were participating, had you ever heard of the BeLeave campaign during your time at Vote Leave ?
Dominic Raab: I am sure I was aware of all the other different groups, but that is not what I spent my time focused on, either as a member of that board or in my wider efforts campaigning .
Stephen Kinnock: But we know that the donation to BeLeave was by far Vote Leave’s biggest donation—£680,000. It is difficult to believe that the campaign committee, given that it was responsible for making decisions about donations, was not aware of the biggest donation .
Dominic Raab: I think that is an inaccurate description of what that committee did. There was a professional operational team that dealt with the day-to-day running of the campaign and things like the donations coming in. Obviously we had an outreach function, but what we were primarily focused on was the political campaigning .
And by the way, if you want to talk about the soul of democracy, I don’t think a second referendum on Brexit would be very good for the soul of our democracy either .
Stephen Kinnock: I agree, and that’s something that I’ve never advocated .