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Can UK Opposition Parties Organize to take on May; French Election Too Close to Call; The Hunt for the USS Carl Vinson
Aired April 19, 2017 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, the British parliament overwhelmingly approves Prime Minister Theresa May's snap election. But a
leading member of the party staking itself out as the anti-Brexit vote isn't having any of it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What she's basically saying is that opposition parties -- how dare opposition parties oppose. But you know what, that's what
opposition parties in mature democracies do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And what about critics who say May is wasting valuable Brexit negotiating time. The former head of Britain's civil service disagrees.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be honest, nothing is happening at the minute. Basically, no serious negotiations happen until after the German elections.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Plus, the view from elsewhere in Europe with another all- important election. It is France, next week. The French ambassador to the UK joins me live.
Good evening, everyone. And welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
A day after her surprise call for a general election, Britain's prime minister took the motion to parliament and won an overwhelming majority for
the June 8th pole. And in a fiery exchange, Theresa May insisted again that she needs this election to give her a strong popular mandate for
Brexit negotiation, but the opposition hit back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Every vote for the conservatives will mean we can stick to our plan for a stronger Britain and take a right long-
term decisions for a more secure future for this country.
JEREMY CORBYN, BRITISH LABOUR PARTY: We welcome the general election, but -- but -- but this-- but this is a -- but this is a prime minister who
promised there wouldn't be one. A prime minister who cannot be trusted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: But just how much the opposition welcomes the election is actually up for debate. Theresa May already has a working majority in
parliament, but she wants a more comfortable margin and she is expected to win more seats. Today, the European Commission president Jean Claude
Juncker said real talks on Brexit will only begin after the election is over.
Nick Clegg was deputy prime minister and head of the central left liberal Democrat party here. He since stepped down, but he vows to help position
his party as the only viable opposition to a hard Brexit. After casting his vote for the June election, he joined me from outside parliament,
vowing to keep fighting to keep Britain open and tolerant and with the best possible trade links.
AMANPOUR: Nick Clegg, welcome to the program.
NICK CLEGG, FORMER BRITISH DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Good to be here on the program.
AMANPOUR: You've just come out of parliament, and the prime minister has seen a massive approval for her desire to go to election. Should we really
add anything into that?
CLEGG: I personally think that it's rather surprising that the principal party of opposition, the Labour party, has decided to take such an
uncritical approach to what really is on Theresa May's behalf, a pretty opportunistic attempt to secure a landslide majority in June so that she
can impose pretty well whatever Brexit outcome that she wants.
So anyway, look, it's going to start now. The campaign is going to start now. The crucial thing is to ensure that there are MPs back in the House
of Commons here behind me after June the 8th who are prepared to provide effective opposition to this government.
AMANPOUR: Well, can I ask you then to elaborate on that. Yesterday after news of the snap election broke, the leader of your party who succeeded you
basically said if you want to avoid a disastrous hard Brexit, if you want to keep Britain in the single market, if you want a Britain that's open and
tolerant and united, this is your chance.
How exactly are you, the Lib Dems and apparently as you described a supine labor opposition going to create this chance?
CLEGG: Sometimes people assume the only way that you can affect change is by, you know, having -- you know, sitting on the back seat of a ministerial
limo or having a fancy ministerial office in white. It isn't.
There's a really, really crucial role, particularly in our parliamentary system, of effective opposition, challenging the government when it decides
to do things which are judged to be or can be damaging to the country. And this is a classic example where Theresa May has chosen, and this is a
choice, you need to do this, has chosen to interpret the finely balanced outcome of the referendum last year in the most uncompromising, the most
unflinching, hard-edge way.
Mainly that not only does she want to take the United Kingdom out of the political institutions of the European Union, she also wants to take the
United Kingdom out of Margaret Thatcher's single market, out of the customs union and so on.
[14:05:36] Now at the moment, she's able to do that because people are not opposing her effectively enough. If we get more liberal Democrat MPs back
in parliament, if we get more conservative MPs who have doubts about that, and if we have more labor MPs with greater sort of courage in their
convictions, then I believe the next parliament after June the 8th could do much, much more to rein Theresa May in. That has been the case in the
AMANPOUR: So that obviously presupposes then some kind of organization amongst like minded politicians such as yourself. You know, people have
said this is the once-in-a-lifetime, unexpected chance to actually band together and redefine the terms of Brexit.
Do you think that opposition is organized enough to do that?
CLEGG: No is the short answer. But I also think that over the coming weeks in the general election, this very simple choice between not Brexit
or no Brexit, but are we going to pursue the least economically damaging form of Brexit, I think will come to the fore.
In my experience, having spoke on the thousands and thousands and thousands of people who voted either remain or Brexit last year, I haven't found a
single voter, even those who voted for Brexit and think it's a great thing, who voted to make the United Kingdom poorer and economically weaker. But
that is the direct consequence of the approach that Theresa May is taking.
Now I think that this election campaign, even though the reason that it's being triggered, are very cynical on the part of Theresa May, nonetheless
afford us an opportunity to re-scrutinize the government's plans and make sure they don't inflict the most damaging form of Brexit on the country.
AMANPOUR: Which basically lead to my next point, obviously, she said yesterday on the steps of Downing Street that it's people like yourself and
others in the opposition, which are standing in her way and actually counter to what the people of the country feel, because they're coming
together over Brexit.
I want to play you what she said and have you respond afterwards.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAY: In recent weeks, Labour have threatened to vote against the final agreement we reach with the European Union. The liberal Democrats have
said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that
formally repeals Britain's membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CLEGG: My response firstly is that it's just laughable. This idea that a liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party of Nine, which she's been merrily
denigrating for the last a year or so, should suddenly be recast by her on the steps of number 10 as some monstrous challenge to her, to her will. No
one believes it. It's ludicrous claim to make.
But, secondly, what she's basically saying is that opposition parties, how dare opposition parties oppose. But you know what, that's what opposition
parties in mature democracies do.
And my worry is that if you look at the almost hysterical, splenetic intolerance, not only from what Theresa May says but what some of her
supporters say in the more, kind of wild-eyed, zany parts of the Brexit press. Look at the front page of the "Daily Mail" today. They seem to be
Not only people will hold different views for the views that they hold, but they seem to be intolerant of the basic function of democracy, of
opposition, which is to make sure that our democracy works by holding the powerful to account. And my worry is, what Theresa May wants to do is
basically claim a landslide victory on June 8th, such that she basically has a blank check to do exactly what she likes.
AMANPOUR: We shall look forward to the campaign.
Nick Clegg, thanks very much indeed for joining us.
CLEGG: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, the former head of the civil service, Lord Gus O'Donnell, one of those unelected peers in the House of Lords that you just heard
Theresa May all but accuse of sabotaging her Brexit strategy, he told me earlier that he actually sees her move as a ruthless masterstroke.
AMANPOUR: Lord O'Donnell, welcome to the program.
LORD GUS O'DONNELL, FORMER HEAD OF THE CIVIL SERVICE: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Is this more about neutralizing her opposition as the leader of a political party or is it really just about a Brexit hand?
[14:10:00] O'DONNELL: I think she -- with one stroke, she neutralizes the lords potentially and the kind of -- the other extreme, the hard Brexiteers
in the Commons. But also, I think she's right and that's why it's quite smart that this gives her a much stronger hand in the negotiations.
She's got a lot more time. We know that there will be some kind of deal. I would expect at the end of the two-year period, ahead of the European
elections in 2019. And then we sort of come out, but we haven't agreed very much at all and we need a long transition, and we can have much longer
for that with the election being a couple of years later.
AMANPOUR: So there are all these consequential elections. There's this one. There's France in a couple of weeks. There will be Germany in the
fall. When is the actual meat and potatoes of the Brexit negotiations going to get underway? People are criticizing her for wasting another two
months with some very precious time.
O'DONNELL: And that's a completely ill-judged criticism, because to be honest, nothing is happening at the minute. The EU guidelines for the 27
haven't been agreed till the end of this month, then they go through a process of sorting out directives for the EU commission.
Basically, no serious negotiations happen until after the German elections, when you've got -- when you sit around the table with a new German - newly-
elected German chancellor and a newly-elected French president.
AMANPOUR: What about the actual timing of the negotiations? I mean, you know, having been head of the civil service, how difficult negotiations
are. And Britain has been depleted of its negotiators over the years, because they're all in the EU.
Is it even likely that this could be wrapped up under the best of circumstances by March 2019?
O'DONNELL: My guess is yes, but that means a very kind of unusual exit, so we will leave and we'll have an independent stay and we'll not be -- no
longer around the table. But all sorts of hugely important issues will not have been resolved. And they'll be left for the transitional agreements or
as Theresa May likes to dub them, the implementation period. And that will take years. And she realizes that, which is why she's bought herself a
couple more years for that period.
AMANPOUR: You know, here in the opposition, there are people who still hope to have a vote on the deal that the prime minister brings back when
she brings it back.
And the Lib Dems would like it to be a sort of referendum or a de facto referendum on Brexit, or at least the nature of it.
Can they achieve that in this election campaign?
O'DONNELL: I think it's very unlikely. If the Lib Dems do fantastically well beyond actually even their own wildest dreams, and they manage to be
part of a coalition, they might make it a condition that there is a referendum when the negotiation is finished. I think that's extremely
But, you know, I think we've learned from Trump, from the Brexit debate itself, that, you know, unusual things happen.
AMANPOUR: Does anything worry you?
O'DONNELL: A very bad deal. I mean, going out on WTO terms would be, I think, a very bad deal for the U.K. economy.
AMANPOUR: Which is what some of the Brexiteers hardliners are saying.
O'DONNELL: Absolutely. Yes. And I disagree with them. I think it will be very bad. I think if we were to just say we'll move to tens of
thousands of migrants immediately, that would be incredibly damaging for a whole sway of the British business and for our economy and for people's
So, yes, there are lots of things to worry about. In addition, quite a few foreign policy things, which I'm sure you would have been discussing in
other areas. So, yes, it's not the most stress free world, but this election I think should help the prime minister go into the negotiations
with a stronger hand.
AMANPOUR: Gus O'Donnell, thank you very much, indeed.
O'DONNELL: You're welcome.
AMANPOUR: And about those foreign policy issues, we'll have a lot more after a break. But first, a reality checks. This will be the fourth major
high-stress vote in Britain in under four years.
So you can perhaps forgive Brenda from Bristol, her exasperation upon news of the June 8th election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're joking. Not another one! Oh, for God's sake, I can't honestly -- I can't stand this. There's too much politics going on
at the moment. Why does she need to do it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Many will no doubt share that sentiment. But it's higher stress, maybe even higher stakes across the channel in France. When we
come back, the French ambassador joins us live to discuss the unprecedented election happening in her country.
[14:16:15] AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.
Another week, another consequential European election. That's how it feels any way. The first round of France's tumultuous presidential election
begins on Sunday.
With four main candidates jockeying for a place in the final runoff. Two of whom are vigorously anti-Europe, anti-NATO and pro-Putin. Elections in
France, Germany and now Britain introduce even more uncertainty at a time when the European community faces its greatest threats since World War II.
As France's ambassador to the UK, Sylvie Bermann has navigated unprecedented upheavals on both sides of the English channel and she joins
Welcome to the program. So before I get to your elections, how does France's major EU partner view the British elections that's just cold,
particularly in light of the Brexit negotiations?
SYLVIE BERMANN, FRANCE AMBASSADOR TO THE UK: I don't think it will turn to anything. It has no consequences on the timeline, because in fact, the EU,
European Council will give mandate of negotiations in May, to engage guidelines in April, so in any case, negotiations wouldn't have started
AMANPOUR: And everybody is saying, oh, my goodness, we don't have enough time. This is crazy. Not even by March 2019 will all 27 agree with
Britain. But, apparently, we're hearing that they won't even start serious negotiations until after the German elections in September.
BERMANN: I think negotiations will be made, by (INAUDIBLE), who has been appointed by the commission and the heads of state. And so we will start
the negotiations. But decisions probably will be taken afterwards.
AMANPOUR: OK. Now to your election.
There are a lot of people around the world literally trembling at what might be the result of your election. Not just because of the
personalities involved and the highly controversial Marine Le Pen of the National Front. But because she has said that she wants to break up Europe
essentially. Her policies would lead to that.
What is the danger for France do you think in the upcoming election given the candidates right now.
BERMANN: Well, of course, I won't comment on the candidate as an ambassador. I'm supposed to be neutral. The only thing I can say is that
it is very important for Europe, of course, because we have always been the leading nation in Europe. And recent polls in France show that the French
people are attached to the EU, and even more to the euro, because it was only 11 percent of the French people who were against going back to Francs.
AMANPOUR: Well, that's interesting. Because without obviously mentioning names then, one of the candidates, Marine Le Pen, actually wants to do a
referendum on the Euro and the Franc, the old currency, and then you know she says if she can't get what she wants from Europe, she will call a
referendum on the EU.
So you're saying that right now public opinion would not go her way.
Well, that's what the polls show. And after a presidential election, there will be parliamentary elections in any case.
So we're talking -- we've got extreme right as we've discussed, Marine Le Pen and we've got quite extreme left, Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has made a
Again, I know you're not talking political characters and candidates. But what is the impetus that's given both extremes so much momentum right now?
BERMANN: Well, I think it has paint in the whole Europe. It's also what's it's called populism, but we don't know what's going to be the result of
the elections. And we will know next Sunday, which are going to be the two candidates.
[14:20:10] AMANPOUR: There's a lot of worry, not just in the United States after what happened in the election there, but all over. The Germans are
taking actual measures to stop so-called fake news and the rest. And there are Sputnik RT, formally Russia today, which have put out some very
scandalous stories regarding your own candidate.
So, Russia, in fact, your own president, President Hollande has said that Russia is actively working to influence French voters.
Do you see that? Or how do you see it? And how big a problem is it? Is France able to come out and quash that, neutralize it?
BERMANN: Yes, there is a principle in international relations, and it is unacceptable to have interference in our domestic systems or in our
elections. And I think we have taken all measures to prevent this interference.
AMANPOUR: What will populism, if it survives the election in France, what will that kind of nationalism do to Europe?
BERMANN: Well, I think -- well, of course, Europe is always a scapegoat when there is a problem, probably our government should explain more what
is the advantage of the EU for the people. And maybe some reforms are also necessary.
AMANPOUR: Can I move on to Syria, because just breaking news today before we came on, your foreign minister has said that within a very short time,
France, after all the tests and all the expertise it has lent to the investigation of the chemical attack in Syria, will be able to prove that
it did come from the Assad regime.
Tell me what's happening. How is France involved in this? And what might that mean, that kind of conclusive proof and blame?
BERMANN: Yes. You know, our ministers said he will give evidence, but we'll have no more information being an ambassador. What is important is
that we have been working closely with our British partner, and as you saw there was a giant op-ed last Friday, "The Guardian" by our minister and
Boris Johnson. And it is very important to condemn those attacks against civilians and in particular chemical attacks.
AMANPOUR: And attach responsibility.
BERMANN: Yes, absolutely. And we're waiting also for the investigation of the chemical --
AMANPOUR: Actually, they came out today. The OPCW.
BERMANN: I haven't seen that.
AMANPOUR: Yes. They actually also came out to say that this is absolutely Sarin, Sarin-like substance. They don't assign or portion responsibility.
But just finally, looking around from your perch here as ambassador, what concerns you the most in all the things you have to deal with?
BERMANN: Well, I think terrorism, of course, is the most serious challenge and the strengthening of the EU also, because when you have continent-size
countries, of course, the U.S., like China in the future, India or Brazil, it is important to have the strength of the EU.
So our priority is not Brexit. Our priority strengthening the EU, the security of the EU, so the borders. And also providing jobs in particular
for our young people and strengthening our defense and our role on the international scene.
AMANPOUR: Big, big challenges. And in fact, as we speak, your interior ministers yesterday said that they had thwarted a potential violent plan
for the elections. So they thwarted it.
Ambassador Bermann, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
BERMANN: Thank you very much.
AMANPOUR: And after a break, imagine a world brought to the brink by an American armada, only to discover it wasn't even actually close to where we
were told it was, which was the Korean Peninsula.
We decipher the "USS Carl Vinson" drama, that's heaping incredulous ridicule on Trump's government from overseas. That's next.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, we imagine a world where a miscommunication could become a dangerous miscalculation. When an unnamed official in the
public affairs office of the U.S. Navy's third fleet announced last week that the "USS Carl Vinson" was headed towards the Western Pacific, the
Trump administration hopped on board. President himself said that we're sending an armada. That would be to deter North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Images made front pages around the world. Japanese and South Korean allies pronounced themselves reassured, while Pyongyang responding with terrifying
talk of thermonuclear war. Tensions were high.
And then on Monday, the U.S. Navy posted this photo, showing the ship was actually in Indonesia's Sunda Strait, not heading north towards the Sea of
Japan where the world thought it was going, but steaming south towards the Indian Ocean for joint exercises with Australia.
So who's in charge of deployments and messaging? The Trump administration's credibility on this vital issue has taken a battering,
prompting jibes from China's press. Beijing of course is expected to be helping the U.S. resolve the North Korea issue. And far more seriously
perhaps, a South Korean presidential candidate saying that his country may not be able to trust what the Trump administration says anymore.
Now Vice President Mike Pence tells CNN, the "Carl Vinson" will be in the region in the coming weeks. So this sorry saga can begin all over again.
If only the stakes weren't so very high.
That's it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching and good night from London.