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Howard blows it!

Posted by Richard Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Today Programme BBC Radio 4
Interview - John Humphrys and Michael Howard

John Humphrys: "So in other words, your position is precisely the same as the Labour government’s."

Michael Howard: "Oh! Absolutely."


Here, let it be said, is the turning point. Michael Howard today proved, beyond doubt, that the Conservatives are unelectable.

Extract as follows:

MH: …I think we should be saying to our partners there are things which Europe does today which would be much better done by the nation states. And we ought to be looking in the light of experience at the things which Europe does do today and seeing if we can restore some of them to the nation states. And I was very interested to hear Jim Naughtie’s interview earlier this morning with the Dutch foreign minister who seemed to be saying something very similar indeed to what I have been saying.

JH: Well that’s a bit milder the way you expressed… it’s a bit milder than the language you’ve been using, and the language you used in the Daily Telegraph this morning. You’re talking about restoring things to Britain that are now controlled by Europe, such as the Common Fisheries Policy.

MH: That’s one. Em… Overseas aid is another. We all want our overseas aid to go to the poorest people in the world. They clearly need help and that’s why hard-earned taxpayer’s money in this country is used to help the poorest people in the world. Now everybody knows that British aid is clean, is not corrupt, is effective, gets to the people who need it. That unfortunately isn’t true of the aid policies of the European Union and their programmes, despite Chris Patten’s Herculean efforts to reform them…

JH: But er…

MH: BUT why, why should hard-earned British taxpayers’ money go to aid programmes run by the European Union. Instead it would be much better if they went to the poorest people in the world through British aid programmes. That’s another example

JH: But the Common Fisheries Policy is something that you cannot restore and it’s misleading to suggest that you can.

MH: But you CAN. You see fishing was actually one of the things on the agenda in the constitution discussions. It still is on the agenda. And our government could have said because it’s on the agenda, we want to talk about this and we think this is one of the things that is done at European level which would be better done at national level.

JH: Interruption (unintelligible)

MH: Instead it’s going the other way. There is a change to the status of fishing in the constitution. It makes it even clearer than it is now that it’s to be an exclusive European competence. And instead of saying no to that, and arguing about that, and discussing and negotiating that, as is so often the case, the government of this country have just thrown up their hands and given up the ghost.

JH: Well the fact is that it existed before we joined the… the Common Fisheries Policy existed before we joined the European Union and we signed up to it as part of the accession treaty that we signed. And therefore, if we wanted to change it, we would have to get the approval of all the other members, 24 other countries. The idea that Portugal or Spain or indeed France would say OK, we’ll give you back your fishing is daft. It’s like you inviting Kilroy-Silk into your shadow cabinet or something. It’s not going to happen.

MH: That is exactly the sort of argument that took place when Margaret Thatcher said she was going to get our rebate back.

JH: Not a fair comparison…

MH: It’s an entirely fair comparison. People said why should anyone give up their money so that you can get this rebate? You need the agreement of every other member state. You’re not going to get it.

HM: So you really believe you could get the agreement of for instance, France and Portugal and Spain to restore all our fishing rights?

MH: I tell you…

JH: Do you believe that?

MH: Yes.. I tell you why…

JH: You do?

MH: I tell you why. Because, you see that this would not be one isolated subject. I want to have a new deal in Europe. I want to have a fresh look at the whole basis on which the European Union is currently run. And I want to say to our partners, look there are those of you who want to integrate more closely. And Britain’s been saying no for some time now, and you’re fed up of our saying no, and I’m fed up of our saying no. So let’s have a new deal. If you want to integrate more closely, that’s fine. We don’t want to stop you doing what you want to do. I…

JH: (interruption – unintelligible) …integrating more closely… it’s not the point here, that’s not what we’re talking about here.

MH: Let me finish. We don’t want to stop you doing what you want to do as long as you don’t make us do what we don’t want to do. So let’s sit down together, let’s look at the current arrangements. Where they’re working well - and there are many respects in which they are working well - that’s fine, that’s very good. We won’t disturb those. But where in the light of our experience over the many years for which the European Union has been operating, we can see that it’s not working well and it would be much better if things were restored to national control, let’s do that. Let’s not have a one-way street Europe in which the only decisions that are taken transfer yet more power from the nation states to Brussels. Let’s have a look and see that where there are things that the nation states could do much better, much more effectively, let’s sit down together and say that would be a good idea.

JH: And if they say no, actually, we think the Common Fisheries Policy is working abso… I take this as a very important example… We think it’s working fine. Then what do you do?

MH: Nobody thinks it’s… (interruption) Nobody thinks its working fine… It’s emptied the seas of fish.. (interruption)

JH: You know as well as I do that there’s no way that those other countries that I refer to will say all right, let us restore Britain’s fishing rights in the way that you and British fishermen no doubt would like to have it restored. You know that there is not a cat in hell’s chance of that happening.

MH: Well, as I say John, that is exactly what people said to Margaret Thatcher. And I’m afraid I don’t agree with you.

JH: All right.

MH: She achieved it before. And I think we can do it again.

JH: So is that one of your red lines, then, to use the expression that’s in vogue?

MH: It is only the Conservative Party that says we should stay in the European Union but we shouldn’t go down the road of creating a single state. We shouldn’t give more and more power to Brussels…

JH: I take that point…

MH: Continues with EVM (Extruded Verbal Material) until JH gets Howard back to the point…

JH: All right, well let me return to the question I put to you, which I don’t think you answered. Would this business of the fishing policy, would that be one of your red lines, to use this voguish phrase? In other words, in other words – and this is a very important point isn’t it – in other words, if you could not get that changed, would you say that we cannot stay in this institution, in Europe as it exists.

MH: Margaret Thatcher, when she negotiated the rebate never said if I don’t get the rebate I’m going to pull out.

JH: No, I’m asking whether you would say that?

MH: No, I would take the same attitude that she took. And it succeeded. And I see no reason why it shouldn’t succeed again.

JH: But it might not. You’d accept that. You’re an intelligent man. You know that it’s distinctly possible that you would fail in this, what no doubt some people would see as a noble endeavour. If you failed, you would nonetheless say, OK we’ll just have to live with it. That’s would you would have to do isn’t it?

MH: You can go into negotiations determined to succeed or you can go into negotiations contemplating failure. I would go into those negotiations determined to succeed.

JH: But you will not be saying as you go into these negotiations, if we do not get what we want, then we will leave the European Union. Be very clear about that.

MH: That was not the way in which it was done before and I don’t think that this would be a sensible way in which these negotiations should be conducted.

JH: So your problem remains then that you’re fighting this election tomorrow against a party that says we are actually prepared, indeed want to pull out of Europe. And you have left therefore the sceptics in your party nowhere to go – or sceptics not necessarily within your party, those who are sceptical outside your party who might have otherwise voted for you – saying well it looks as if we’re going to vote for Europe, er for UKIP because we want to send a message.

MH: Well it’s not the position of the Conservative Party and it’s not my position that we want to pull out of the European Union. That is absolutely clear.

JH: And indeed you go further and say under no circumstances would we pull out.

MH: We want to stay in the European Union because we think there’s an important job to do in Europe standing up for Britain’s interests and putting Britain first.

JH: So in other words, your position is precisely the same as the Labour government’s.

MH: Oh! Absolutely…

JH: We will stay in Europe and fight…

MH: But they give in…

And so it continues…. To hear the full interview click here.