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Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks): First, I welcome and support what the Prime Minister said about Cyprus and Turkey. I concur with him about the gravity of the situation in Chechnya. The Opposition support the measures agreed at Helsinki, including the diversion of some of the TACIS funding. Russia's actions have been brutal, but it is in everyone's interests that we do not unwittingly destabilise the Russian economy or the progress of democracy in that country.

Overall, however, did not the Helsinki summit represent the complete failure of the Prime Minister's strategy on Europe? Before he came to office, the Prime Minister said:


Is not it true that he thought that all he had to do was concede and cave in to gain the good will of our European partners? Two and a half years after taking office, is not it apparent that he has got nothing in return for his caving in or his concessions? There is nothing left of his European policy, which has been exposed as one of astonishing naivety.

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Is not the greatest example of that the fiasco of the beef ban? When he thought that the ban had been lifted earlier this year, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said:


In July, the Prime Minister told the House that the decision to lift the beef ban had come about


    "because the Government have a constructive . . . attitude to Europe. That is why we got the beef ban lifted and it is another example of new Labour working."--[Official Report, 14 July 1999; Vol. 335, c. 402-5.]

Today he is reduced to stating, rather pathetically:


    "The beef ban is in law lifted."

Five months and several summits since the Prime Minister's statement to the House in July, is not the fact that British beef is still banned in Europe's two largest countries proof that Labour in Europe is not working? Is not it time that the Prime Minister admitted that he should have lifted our own ban on beef on the bone months ago, as the Opposition demanded, and that he should have begun legal proceedings months ago, as we argued? Should he not have been actively negotiating with the French, which is what we have called for throughout? [Laughter.] The Prime Minister thinks that he has been actively negotiating.

The Government veer between complacently announcing that the ban has been lifted and petulantly refusing to talk to the French when it is not lifted. The Prime Minister may think that he has been actively negotiating, but the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food went through a period when he would not pick up the telephone to speak to his French counterpart. The Anglo-French summit a fortnight ago passed happily by with beef neither on the menu nor on the agenda: where was the Prime Minister's active negotiation then?

The Prime Minister's complacency was finally shattered--and his petulance reached new heights--at Helsinki. A report in The Sun of 10 December stated:


The Government are experts in the tactical ineptitude of which the Prime Minister accuses others. We know that he always says that, in fighting the beef ban, we have the law and science on our side. We do--but, unfortunately, we also have the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on our side, which is why the beef ban has not been lifted.

Beef provides one example of how Labour in Europe is not working, but the fiasco over the withholding tax provides another. Instead of vetoing the tax at the beginning, the Prime Minister has allowed the threat of it to hang over the City for more than a year, with all the damage that such uncertainty causes. The Chancellor's own Treasury report states that


If the Prime Minister has been so tough about the tax, how is it that he has allowed that uncertainty to continue? How is it that, at Helsinki, he agreed to yet more talks? How is it that the German Finance Minister should have said on Friday that he had had


    "differing signals from the British"?

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    How was it that the EU Tax Commissioner should have said that he is "hopeful and positive" about introducing a withholding tax in the next six months? Was not Helsinki the chance to end the uncertainty? Instead of simply vetoing the tax, should not the right hon. Gentleman have insisted that it would never be introduced by the back door through qualified majority voting?

European defence was also on the Helsinki agenda. We are in favour of an enhanced European defence capability within NATO. However, we are concerned about the current development of what is euphemistically called readily deployable EU military capabilities outside NATO--in other words, a European army.

Has the Prime Minister seen the comments of the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe inThe New York Times today? General Wesley Clark says:


General Clark also says:


    "the new European plan has the potential to cause long-term irritation for the United States."

It is no good saying that the Americans are not worried about it--the Secretary of State for Defence admitted that they are only moments ago at Question Time.

Does the Prime Minister remember saying at the Amsterdam summit two years ago:


and calling the very plan to which he has now signed up


    "an ill-judged transplant operation"?

The decision to establish a defence identity outside NATO is momentous--it is one of the biggest changes in foreign and defence policies on which the Government have embarked. We believe that it has profound dangers. Is not it time that the rationale for and considerable risks of the change were fully explained to the House?

Does not the challenge of European Union enlargement most starkly expose the fact that Labour in Europe is not working? We think that enlargement is the single most pressing issue facing Europe today. We believe that an enlarged Europe cannot work unless it is more flexible, unless countries can be in the European Union but not run by the European Union. The Prime Minister believes the opposite--that Europe needs to be more integrated, that more powers and rights of member states need to be transferred to Brussels. Sometimes the right hon. Gentleman leads the way on integration and sometimes he gets dragged along in that direction, but that is always the path that he takes. That is why at the Helsinki summit he agreed to an open-ended discussion on abolishing the veto, the development of a European army and more tax harmonisation.

The Prime Minister has managed to pull off the unbelievable double of signing up to the integrationist agenda while simultaneously being isolated in Europe. Baroness Thatcher was isolated when she won Britain the rebate, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was isolated when he won the opt-out from the single currency. Those British Prime Ministers may have sometimes been isolated, but they came back with something that we needed. Is not the right hon. Gentleman the first British Prime Minister in history to return from a summit both isolated and empty handed?

The Prime Minister: I think that when we got to Baroness Thatcher, we pretty well worked out the true author of that remark.

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Let me deal with some of the issues raised by the right hon. Gentleman. He accuses us of not doing enough for enlargement. His policy, let me remind him, is to block enlargement. He is committed to blocking enlargement unless the European Union agrees to a treaty change. All 15 member states have to agree to such a treaty change, but not one does. Is there one? The idea of lectures from the right hon. Gentleman on doing more for enlargement illustrates how completely fatuous his policy on Europe has become.

As for beef, I thought that the right hon. Gentleman's criticism today was a trifle different from before--he is now accusing me of not negotiating enough. For weeks Mr. Yo-yo has been round the television studios, saying that I was a puppet dancing to Mr. Jospin's tune and asking why I was talking to him instead of fighting. It is another fatuous position. [Interruption.] The Tories shout, but let me remind them of one big difference between us and them. When we came to power, how many countries could British beef be sold in? It was a round figure, approximating to zero--and that was after the Tory beef war.

On the withholding tax, having accused me of being a puppet, of caving in and dancing to someone else's tune on beef, the right hon. Gentleman accuses me of being isolated--the very thing he asks me to be on beef, but for which he criticises me when I am. The right hon. Gentleman's biggest cheek came when he stated that we should have vetoed the withholding tax from the beginning because that is what the Tories did. Well, we have done some research on what they did: the tax arose from a decision taken in April 1996, and, on the previous occasion on which it was on the agenda, in 1989, Britain voted for it under a Conservative Government. The country that vetoed it then was Luxembourg. The Tories cannot tell us that we should have gone straight in with a veto.

The right hon. Gentleman also made some points on defence, a subject on which he is perhaps more ridiculous than on any other. If I understand his position, he is in favour of defence co-operation in Europe, but in a way consistent with NATO.


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