CNBC News Releases

CNBC Transcript: Stephen Barclay, U.K. Brexit Secretary

Below is the transcript of a CNBC Exclusive interview with U.K.'s Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay. The interview was first broadcast on CNBC's Squawk Box Asia on 9 September 2019. The interview took place at the Ambrosetti Forum in Cernobbio, Italy. If you choose to use anything, please attribute to CNBC and Steve Sedgwick.

Steve Sedgwick (SS): Proposing reasonable alternative scrutiny, but you don't like the molecular detail the commission wants to get into as well. Surely, it's reasonable of the commission to actually want some detail on alternative solutions to the backstop?

Stephen Barclay (SB): It's reasonable for the commission to want to protect the integrity of the single market. It's also reasonable for the commission, like the United Kingdom to want to guarantee the Belfast Good Friday agreement. We are absolutely committed to that. But it's not reasonable for the commission to ignore the fact that the UK parliament three times has voted to reject the backstop. So what he Prime Minister has done is narrowed down the remaining issues to a single issue, the issue of the backstop. Parliament has rejected it three times. So we have to work creatively and flexibly with the commission to address that point, because otherwise it would require Northern Ireland to take laws, over which their voters would not have a say and that wouldn't be democratic and wouldn't pass the UK parliament.

SS: The commission obviously has to be led to believe by the Prime Minister that we are serious about leaving on October 31st and that is something you and the Prime Minister have said many, many times as well, but given the Prime Minister appears to have lost of parliament, lost control of the business of parliament, he's lost control of his own party by taking out 21 members of the parliamentary party, and possibly lost control of his own cabinet with Amber Rudd departing in the last 24 hours. Why should the European commission spend capital on coming to terms with the Prime Minister when perhaps they feel he might not be in charge of British politics?

SB: Well, the UK parliament has been against every option put before it except one, which is the deal without the backstop. That is what the Prime Minister is putting forward. And in parliament, yes, many MPs are concerned about a no deal which is why we need to get a deal over the line. And a deal is doable by the 31st of October, but only if the backstop goes. And the key opportunity for us to get onto a positive future relationship that builds on the strong ties we have here in Italy, between Italy and the United Kingdom, and other member states. But we need to do that with a deal. Because a no deal outcome would be damaging whether it is to geographic indicators, whether it is to security, to issues within our relationship with Europe, so it is far better to have a deal. That's what's in our interest.

SS: But Steve there is a feeling among some of the important Europeans you and I have been speaking to here at Ambrosetti, the ones I have been speaking to are saying the UK government hasn't entered into new negotiations with new ideas. In fact there aren't new progressive discussions going on. Would you refute that?

SB: I do refute that. The teams, the European advisor to the Prime Minister was in Brussels on Wednesday for five hours (inaudible), he's there again on Friday. I spoke to Michel Barnier on Thursday. I'm here in Italy this weekend. The Prime Minister is in Dublin on Monday, so a huge amount of effort is going into the talks. But the crux of the issue is whether a test is set that requires continued regulatory alignment in a way that the UK parliament has rejected. So, yes, let's protect the single market and its integrity and the Belfast Good Friday agreement, but we need to look creatively and flexibly at the solutions in terms of Northern Ireland in order to get a deal. Because what I hear from the businesses here in Italy is they want to avoid a no deal, they want to have a deal and they want the commission to be flexible in it approach.

SS: And yet you lost a cabinet colleague and the Prime Minister lost a friend of his from cabinet last night, Amber Rudd, who said I no longer believe that leaving with a deal is the government's main objective. How do you respond to that?

SB: Well, I entered parliament with Amber. She is a hugely talented colleague. I served in both the last cabinet under Theresa May and in the current cabinet and I hugely respect her. Now it is the case that she wasn't a part of the senior cabinet committee that deals with Brexit, that is chaired by the Prime Minister, that I attend, that the foreign secretary, the chancellor, the attorney general (SS: and Dominic Cummings) attend, she wasn't part of that committee. But like most colleagues, and Amber Rudd is included in this, she wants a deal and that is why I am here in Italy and the Prime Minister will be in Dublin. We are working to secure a deal. That's in Italy's interest, in the UK's interest. But it does require both sides to be flexible and creative. And to date the commission are setting a test which parliament has rejected and this is really an issue about democracy. We had the biggest vote in our country's history, in the United Kingdom. 17.4 million people vote to leave. It's a fundamental point of democracy that we respect that result. But let's respect it by getting a deal and leaving on the 31st of October.

SS: Steve, you – and I won't break Chatham House rules – you were in a conference yesterday Mario Monti was hosting it and he laid out a whole host of options of what could happen next, as outlined by reports he was reading. What do you t hink the most likely scenario… if you were sitting back from this, and of course you are sitting in the midst of it – what is the most likely scenario that happens next in British politics and negotiations?

SB: It really depends on how the commission respond. The commission respond in line with what they say publicly what they say in private and respond creatively to the issues in Northern Ireland, then we can get to the detail of alternative arrangements, but (inaudible) that has to be solved by the 31st of October. With a deal we have the implementation period that takes us through to the end of 2020 when further operational details can be worked out. So let's give ourselves more time, let's have a deal, let's secure the implementation period which secures citizens' rights in the way that many of the Italian businesses are concerned, it secures the trade flows through Calais, Dover that the business leaders have been saying is very important. There is a prize on offer lets work together for it.

SS: A couple of very quick questions. Is the Prime Minister able to go for a general election? Do you think he will have a general election before or after October 31st because the opposition at the moment don't trust him to say yes we will have it before October 31st and then change the date once parliament is resolved.

SB: Well, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn's position is incoherent. He wants to extend in order to have time for him to negotiate a new deal which he then says he would then campaign against. So again, just to be clear on that, he wants more time negotiate a deal, which he will then work against. Which I think is an incoherent position. He said he would respect the referendum result in his manifesto now he's gone back on his word. If parliament can't make a decision, if parliament can't decide then the British people will need to do so through a general election. Let's first see if we can get a deal over the line by the 31st of October. That's what he Prime Minister is working to do. It's what I am working to do.

SS: Parliament has voted for an extension, that is to become a law, you are a former solicitor as well, you are still a solicitor in terms of your qualifications, do you advise the Prime Minister to defy the law, potentially go to court and potentially in extreme situation go to prison to actually defy this new law which says we have to go for an extension beyond October 31st.

SB: The Ministerial Code requires obeying the law so that's part of the Ministerial Code….

SS: So there will be no defying of the law?

SB: The key issue is how we deliver on the democratic results of the British people. This was the biggest vote in our country's history, people want to see this done. It's been going on for three years. We've already had two extensions. Let's get this done. But it does require the commission not just to say in public that they will be creative and flexible. It also requires them in private to get into those discussions with us, so we can get this deal over the line.

SS: Just to clarify, the government, the Prime Minister, his supporters, his advisors will not be looking for loopholes to this new law about an extension?

SB: We want to get this done, we want to deliver on the democratic result, that is what we are focused on and my attention here in Italy and the Prime Minister in Dublin on Monday is getting a deal. And that is something Amber and colleagues across the house all agree on.

SS: One more time, the government will not defy the law?

SB: Ministers under the Ministerial Code adhere to the law. But the key issue is, let's get a deal, and let's get out by the 31st of October.


Media Contact:
Clarence Chen
Communications Manager APAC, CNBC International
D: +65 6326 1123
M: +65 9852 8630

About CNBC:

CNBC is the leading global broadcaster of live business and financial news and information, reporting directly from the major financial markets around the globe with regional headquarters Singapore, Abu Dhabi, London, and New York. The TV channel is available in more than 415 million homes worldwide. is the preeminent financial news source on the web, featuring an unprecedented amount of video, real-time market analysis, web-exclusive live video and analytical financial tools.

CNBC is a division of NBCUniversal. For more information, visit