EXCL Chris Grayling: I’m a lightning rod for the anti-Brexit brigade
Chris Grayling has hit back at personal attacks on his political competence and declared: "I’m a lightning rod for the anti-Brexit brigade."
The Cabinet minister also accused left-wing union leaders of singling him out for attacks, but insisted he was not afraid to make "big and sometimes unpopular calls if they’re the right thing to do".
Mr Grayling has faced calls to resign in the past year after the rollout of new railway timetables led to weeks of travel chaos, as well as the Government’s handling of the East Coast Main Line rail franchise.
He has also come under fire for his tenure as Justice Secretary, where many of his reforms were later overturned by his successors.
“There are a few people who clearly would like to see me removed; the RMT union being a case in point. I've been very clear in saying that the railway industry needs to be able to modernise without the unions standing in the way,” Mr Grayling told The House.
"Every politician gets flak from time to time; you just have to take it on the chin and get on with the job."
When asked why he thinks he receives the criticism he incurs, he replied: “There are people like the RMT union who have been trying to get me to resign for the last nine months. This is a trade union that regards Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party as too right-wing to affiliate to and wants to stand in the way of modernisation of the railways.
“The railways need to modernise. So, inevitably, from an organised left-wing trade union, you’re going to get some missiles fired. But I’m going to do what I think is right.
“I’ve also made some big calls – like the expansion of Heathrow, the right thing to for the country but politically difficult and unpopular with some vested interests.
“And that’s similar with some people who want to have a go because I’m pro-Brexit. A lot of people out there want to frustrate the democratic will of the British people who voted to leave the EU and because I’m a prominent Brexiteer in the Cabinet who backs the Prime Minister’s deal I’m a lightning rod for the anti-Brexit brigade.
“But this is politics. I’m not afraid of making big and sometimes unpopular calls if they’re the right thing to do. And I believe in Britain and that we can make a success of ourselves as a country outside the EU.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Grayling said the mechanics of a trade arrangement with the EU would be “much easier” than other trade deal negotiations because “we start form a level playing field”.
“If you are looking at a trade deal, for example, the Canada/EU discussions which took seven years, you start with two different systems that are a way apart and you have to find the common ground.
“We’re in a position where the common ground already exists. What we have to establish is how we manage divergence. So, it’s a different set of negotiations when the time comes.”
The Cabinet Minister also said the so-called Norway Plus Brexit option – which would see the UK remain inside the single market and the customs union – would be a “betrayal” of Leave voters.
“My view is we need to leave the single market, we need to leave the customs union, but we need to make sure that the basis of our future partnership is one that keeps us good friends and neighbours,” he said.
“What we can’t do, in my view, is to betray the result of the referendum.”
And he said there was no reason for people who live in Kent to fear that a no deal Brexit is “going to bring the country to a grinding halt”.