Sajid Javid: “Ministers must do a better job of selling this deal”
Sajid Javid finds himself in one of the great offices of state at a pivotal moment in Britain’s history. As he calls for the government to allay some of his Tory colleagues’ concerns on Brexit, the Home Secretary is looking to end a spate of violent crime across the country. And he has a message for middle class drug users whose actions may be fuelling the crisis. He talks to Kevin Schofield
Sitting on the mantelpiece of Sajid Javid’s spacious office in the ministerial corner behind Speaker’s chair is a cartoon from when he was first appointed to the Cabinet in 2014.
It shows him being welcomed to the post of Culture Secretary by the unmistakable caricature of David Cameron. Rather a lot has happened in the intervening four years.
Remarkably, Javid has since had another three Cabinet jobs – Business Secretary, Communities Secretary and, since April this year, Home Secretary.
He has also seen off Cameron, continued to serve under his successor Theresa May, campaigned in two general elections and was on the losing side in the EU referendum. He’s had quite a busy time of it, all things considered.
As we sit under an iconic portrait of his political hero Winston Churchill, it quickly becomes clear that Javid’s in-tray is unlikely to be empty for some time to come.
London, as well as other towns and cities around the country, is gripped by a violent crime epidemic. It is appropriate, therefore, that he talks of taking a “public health approach” to tackling it, and will shortly be bringing forward legislation to make it a statutory duty of all government agencies to help tackle it.
He says: “How would a government deal with disease? If there’s a disease it’s not just Health, all departments would work together to stop the spread of that disease and try to eliminate it altogether.
“What I found was missing is all government agencies should all think of serious violence as partly their responsibility to try and fight, and have a joined-up strategy. So I think if you give them a statutory duty, they will take it more seriously and they will have to respond. I want every department involved so that people aren’t just looking at the police and the Home Office and saying ‘what are you doing’? That’s a step change in approach.”
Claiming there is cross-party support for this new initiative, he adds: “This is something that can happen in any MP’s constituency and I see this is an opportunity for everyone to work together.”
For Javid, the fight against crime is personal. The father-of-four admits he worries about his own children’s safety, particularly with the wave of knife crime showing little sign of abating.
“I’m deeply concerned about the rise in knife crime and serious violence,” he said. “We’re absolutely determined to do all we can to work with police forces to try and tackle it. We have to accept that there’s a role at different levels of the government and the public sector.
“There’s clearly a role for law enforcement, making sure that if people are committing crime they are brought to justice swiftly. But there’s also a role for prevention, especially early intervention, and so it requires action across the board.”
He adds: “As a parent of four children, I’m concerned. No one wants to think that their loved ones are out on the streets and may meet someone who commits this kind of offence.”
It also helps that his younger brother Basit is a Chief Superintendent with West Midlands Police and is more than happy to put his sibling in the picture about life on the front line.
“Of course I need to listen broadly to many forces, but being in a police family does help you to appreciate more the work that officers do up and down the country,” he says. “They take risks on our behalf and what we owe them is support in terms of resources and the powers to do their jobs.
“But we also have to protect them. There have been some horrific attacks on policemen and women and it just turns my stomach. It just makes me feel that I want the perpetrators brought to justice and properly punished. These people, day in and day out, are risking themselves for our safety and they deserve our utmost support.”
With a government-wide spending review coming up next year, it is unsurprising that Javid highlights the need for the police to have more money. He is tight-lipped about the conversations he is already having with Philip Hammond – “we’re working together” is all he says when pressed – but it is very clear that he expects the Chancellor to loosen the purse strings and sanction a major increase in the policing budget.
“Although we’ve seen an increase in resources this year, I do absolutely accept that there are increasing pressures on police,” says Javid. “They’re seeing a rise not just in serious violence, but other crimes that are complex to solve such as cybercrimes, sexual offences, including historic sexual offences, including child sexual exploitation, so I’m determined that they’ve got the resources that they need.
“I think it was in my second week in this job that I went to speak to the Police Federation and I made a commitment to them then, which I will absolutely uphold, in the spending review police funding will be my priority.”
Everyone involved in law enforcement, he says, agrees that it is the drugs trade that is fuelling the rise in violent crime. This has led to him order the largest review of the drugs market ever undertaken by the government. It will look at what is being consumed, how often, by whom and how much they are paying for it.
And the minister has a stark warning for middle class drug users, who he says are largely oblivious to the havoc which their habit causes.
“There are people that sadly will be well-off and in really well-paid jobs and they might finish their dinner party and call up someone they know, some nice guy, who turns up at their door and hands them drugs. But they don’t see any of the whole supply chain that was utilised to bring them that drug,” he says.
“There’s modern slavery involved, young children in county lines gangs being exploited, there’s violence and possibly death. All this is what happens to bring the drugs to their door.
“Some people think they’re not responsible for any of that. Anyone who is taking these kinds of drugs needs to think about the impact they have on others and how they’re helping to cause this violence and exploitation, particularly of young people.”
Javid sits down with The House just a few days after Amber Rudd – his predecessor at the Home Office – returned to the Cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary. Rudd’s departure was precipitated by her wrongly denying to the Home Affairs Select Committee that her department had a target for removing immigrants from the country. A subsequent investigation carried out by Sir Alex Allan, Theresa May’s adviser on ministers’ interests, found that she had been badly let down by her officials in advance of her committee appearance.
In October, Javid announced a review into the culture and practices of the Home Office, after it emerged that some immigrants applying to stay in the UK had wrongly been made to supply DNA samples. Although he praises the overall performance of the civil service, it is clear the minister believes that it could be better.
“Overall I think that we are very lucky to have the quality of civil servants we have in this country – they are the envy of the world,” he says. “We have a group of people that take their job very seriously, they are fiercely independent, as they should be, and overall they do a good job.
“That said, in any organisation not everyone is going to be perfect. That’s true as much of politicians as it is of civil servants, and it’s important that when you discover problems that you act.”
The civil service is currently facing its biggest ever peacetime challenge as it seeks to deliver Brexit. The finishing line is finally in sight, although there is still the small matter of agreeing the withdrawal agreement, the future political declaration and then trying to get it all through Parliament. On the latter, the indications thus far would suggest that the Prime Minister faces the biggest fight of her political life if she is to persuade enough MPs to back it. In a rare feat, she has seemingly managed to unite Tory Brexiteers and Remainers, Labour, the SNP, Lib Dems and even the DUP – who she relies on to prop up her administration – in opposition to her blueprint.
Javid, a long-time eurosceptic who infuriated many of his colleagues on that wing of the Conservative Party when he came out for Remain during the EU referendum campaign, has risked their ire once more by giving May’s deal his full support. “I think that the draft agreement the Prime Minister has reached with our EU friends delivers on the referendum,” he says. “The country made a clear decision, it delivered instructions to the politicians and we have to obey those instructions.
“What the Prime Minister has worked on is a deal that I believe delivers on that. It gives us back control of our laws, of our money and our borders. We won’t be subject to the European Court of Justice, we won’t be paying vast sums into the EU going forward.”
The deal will also bring an end to freedom of movement, says Javid, who will shortly bring forward the government’s long-awaited post-Brexit immigration plan.
While he is realistic about the scale of the task May faces when the Commons finally votes on her deal next month, he suggests MPs could be persuaded to support her if the government improves the way it goes about communicating its contents.
Asked what his message would be to the sceptics, Javid says: “Take your time to understand the agreement – what it is but also what it isn’t.
“Secondly, think about what the alternative would be to not having this deal. There is a risk that if we don’t have this deal there could be no Brexit at all, because there are some in Parliament who are calling for a second referendum. I’m completely against a second referendum. The decision has been made by the British people and it would be thoroughly undemocratic to go back and ask the same question all over again, yet there are some people demanding this. I also don’t want to see a chaotic no-deal. If we don’t get an agreement then there is a risk of no-deal and we can’t rule that out.”
He adds: “I want to see a smooth exit from the European Union. No one really knows what a chaotic exit will look like, but there will be significant challenges.
“I’m hugely optimistic about what this country can achieve. Britain will always be an incredibly successful country, but that said, let’s look to the future in a way that gives us a smooth exit from the EU and I think that’s what this deal provides.
“I think it’s challenging, but given the time between now and when the vote comes to Parliament, as people have time to digest it and concentrate their minds on what the alternative is, it will help the deal to be looked at in a more positive way by Parliament.”
As if May didn’t have enough on her plate, she has also had to contend with an attempted coup which has, thus far, been notable only for its complete lack of success. The ringleader of the Tory rebellion has been Jacob Rees-Mogg, who Javid describes as “a good friend … one of the most honourable people I’ve ever met”. On this issue, however, they part company.
“He’s entitled to his views and we’ve all got a job to do over the coming days and weeks, to do a better job of communicating to colleagues – whether it’s Jacob or anyone else – what the deal is and what it isn’t, and try to listen to their concerns and see what can be done to allay some of them.
“It’s not about Jacob, it’s more about the government and the ministers doing a better job in selling this deal to all colleagues.”
Now on his fourth Cabinet job in four years, many believe the ambitious Home Secretary is on an inevitable path to 10 Downing Street. At his current rate of progress, it would be foolish to bet against him.