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She said that she had been treated by him

She went on to say:

She concluded that the Prime Minister had “strained every sinew” of her loyalty—something that may apply to the Foreign Secretary too, although he clearly has more flexible sinews. She later explained on “Woman’s Hour” that in her year as Europe Minister, she had not had a single conversation with the Prime Minister about European policy. That on its own tells us a great deal about the dysfunctional and divided Administration that the Prime Minister has produced, but so does the sheer speed with which other Ministers have been, and are, rotated through their positions.

I truly wish the new Ministers who have joined the Foreign Office well, including the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—but it is impossible not to notice that this is the second year running in which the Foreign Secretary has had his entire Commons ministerial team shot from under him. We are to have the 11th Europe Minister in only 12 years. Given that it is so obvious to hon. Members in all parts of the House that in foreign policy, experience and knowledge are of some value, and that consistent relations with other countries matter, such a degree of chronic ministerial instability, including on European matters, cannot be good for either the execution or the evaluation of Government policy.

What is more, in a Government allegedly committed to democratic renewal, half the Foreign Office ministerial team now sits in the House of Lords. The Europe
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Minister, too, is to sit in the House of Lords, and will be beyond the scrutiny of most elected representatives. At the moment, in the run-up to an important EU summit, I do not think that she is sitting in either House, so she is not accountable to anyone at all. It is genuinely mystifying to me why the Foreign Secretary does not ask for a more stable, accountable ministerial team—or whether he does ask, but is ignored by the Prime Minister. Perhaps a clue to the answer to that lies in the fact that the Foreign Secretary, according to The Guardian newspaper, seriously considered resigning 12 nights ago on 4 June.

For a Foreign Secretary seriously to consider resigning is no small matter, particularly on the night of the European elections and in the midst of a Cabinet crisis. I believe that he owes the House an explanation of why he considered resigning, and his own party an explanation of why he thought it was helpful to the Prime Minister to reveal that he had considered resigning. If he has full confidence in the Prime Minister why did he consider resigning, and if he does not have full confidence in the Prime Minister, why did he not conclude that he ought to resign?

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Hague: I will give way to another former Europe Minister—one of the 11 in 12 years.

Keith Vaz: This is not an application for my old job. Even though the Minister for Europe is in another place—when she gets to another place— [Laughter.] The fact is that the Foreign Secretary always attends the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels, so he can come back to the House afterwards, and is accountable to the House for the decisions that affect his Department as far as Europe is concerned. We have the top guy here, if we need to question him on Europe.

Mr. Hague: We do have the top guy here, but as is evident from what I quoted, we only just have the top guy here, because he was seriously considering resigning. The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) makes my point for me, in saying that the Minister for Europe will be in the other place but is now lost in limbo somewhere. There is no Minister for Europe in the Houses of Parliament at the moment.

Ms Angela C. Smith: Is the right hon. Gentleman so fixated on the affairs of the Labour Government and the Foreign Secretary precisely because his party has nothing useful to say about Europe?

Mr. Hague: No. I am about to say a lot about European affairs. I do not think that the House is in any particular hurry today, and I thought that I might dwell on them at some length in a moment. It is not I who am fixated; there was a letter in The Times yesterday from a former Foreign Office Minister whom we miss, the right hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), which said:

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That is the right hon. Member for Pontypridd speaking; it is not I who am fixated on such affairs.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Hague: I will try to move on from the subject in a moment, but hon. Members seem to want to intervene on it.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): To whom does my right hon. Friend think that the right hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) was referring when he talked about “Assisted Places Scheme” people?

Mr. Hague: From the context of the letter, the right hon. Member for Pontypridd seemed to have a great many of the Cabinet in mind. He talked about

and said that they

That is the direct language that we really miss from the Government Front-Bench team.

Ms Gisela Stuart: While we are entertaining ourselves with the misfortunes of our prospective opponents’ parties, may I invite the right hon. Gentleman to enter a wager with me? I would bet that by Christmas the leader of his party will gracefully have to give in to the demands of his MEPs to rescind the rather foolish decision to leave the European People’s party.

Mr. Hague: I am not normally a betting man, but I will take that bet with the hon. Lady. I have no doubt about that. Perhaps we will discuss later behind Madam Deputy Speaker’s Chair the quantification of the bet. I do not think there is any danger that what the hon. Lady described will come to pass.

I had not quite finished with the Foreign Secretary’s near resignation. He also revealed that he needed to decide very quickly whether to resign—a fact which, given the resignation of two other Cabinet Ministers in the previous two days, and the fact that the resignation of the right hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) had been extensively rumoured for the previous 24 hours, shows an amazing lack of political foresight on the part of the Foreign Secretary, if he had to consider that very quickly.

What is further revealing about the Government is that the crucial conversation that led to the Foreign Secretary’s consideration of resigning coming to an end was with Lord Mandelson, who was at that very moment turning himself into the First Secretary of State. Not only is it fascinating to behold that the First Secretary of State, rather than the Prime Minister, was holding together what is left of the Cabinet, but it seems that the Foreign Secretary agreed not to resign from the Government only when he was assured by the noble Lord that he would remain Foreign Secretary. It is good to know that his decisions are based on such selfless and high-minded principles.

Although the Foreign Secretary tried in his speech to depict a division in the Opposition, he should reflect on the fact that the biggest division in politics is not the
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one he imagined in the shadow Cabinet, and possibly not even the one in the Cabinet. The biggest division in politics is the division between his desire to keep his position and his desire to come to the rescue of his party. That is the division inside his own mind, and it is the biggest division in politics today.

The upshot is that in the run-up to another important EU summit and at a time when, according to the results of the European elections, public support for the policies of the Government is at its lowest at any point in the entire democratic history of this country, the Foreign Office Ministers who the Prime Minister wanted to stay have gone, the Ministers who wanted to stay have been removed, and the Foreign Secretary had to agonise about whether to stay or go, having narrowly avoided being removed. It is hardly a recipe for British success at a summit that covers many detailed and difficult issues.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Ind): Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me?

Hon. Members: Oh, no!

Mr. Hague: I will allow him. This is the House of Commons.

Bob Spink: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the common fisheries policy has led to the wholesale destruction of marine life and our fish stocks, and the decimation of our fishing industry? What would a future Conservative Government do about it?

Mr. Hague: I do deplore the common fisheries policy, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and we have long argued that far greater control over fisheries should pass back to national and regional bodies. We will continue to make that argument, and I am sure that he will continue to make it—even though I think he has left the UK Independence party, which may be something to do with its success in the European elections. [Interruption.] We hope he will rejoin it. That might keep it under control.

The draft Council conclusions for the summit on Thursday and Friday put institutional issues at the top of the agenda, but the latest publicly available version has a blank space under the heading “Institutional issues”. The Council has two institutional issues of particular importance to discuss, and the Foreign Secretary mentioned both—the guarantees to be offered to the Republic of Ireland in the hope that that will make the renamed EU constitution more palatable to Irish voters, and the timing of the formal nomination of the next President of the European Commission by the European Council.

The EU member states’ representatives are meeting today at the EU to thrash out the first. European diplomats are nervously telling the press that the British Government are

Another helpfully explained that

as well there might be.

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Mike Gapes: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hague: In a moment.

At the European elections, the Conservative party, which campaigned for the British people to have their promised say in a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, won almost as many votes as the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, which voted against letting British voters have any say at all, put together—an extremely rare event in British elections of any kind.

Mike Gapes rose—

Mr. MacShane rose—

Mr. Hague: I promised to give way to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mike Gapes: Is the right hon. Gentleman pleased or disappointed that opinion polls in the Irish Republic indicate that support for the Lisbon treaty has gone up to 66 per cent., while 34 per cent. support the no camp? Would he rather the treaty were carried in the Irish Republic, therefore taking his problem off the agenda, or does he want the Irish to scupper the treaty?

Mr. Hague: I am not going to try to tell the Irish voters how to vote—nor, after the experience of the Irish referendum last year, am I going to think that opinion polls are a reliable guide to their opinion.

Seldom can a British Government have gone into European negotiations with a greater lack of moral or democratic authority, as a result of the European elections. The Government and our European partners know that Ministers are trying to force through a treaty that, by every test of public opinion, the British people do not want. Ministers must negotiate knowing that the more satisfactory the guarantees offered to Irish voters to meet their concerns, the more pressing the case to consult the British people so that they can express their concerns as well.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend accept that some of us who are in favour of the Lisbon treaty and against referendums still believe that parties that promise a referendum to the people of Britain ought to keep that promise? I believe a referendum to be contrary to the nature of parliamentary democracy—but we did have a promise, and that promise has been broken. That is what undermines the moral authority of this Government.

Mr. Hague: My right hon. Friend puts his point fairly and powerfully. It is the making of such promises and the flagrant breaking of them that undermines trust in politics in this country, undermines trust in how the affairs of the European Union are handled, and thus feeds public disenchantment with those affairs.

Mr. MacShane rose—

Mr. Hague: I must give way. The right hon. Gentleman referred earlier to “Hamlet” without the prince, and a European debate without him would be like “Hamlet” without the third gravedigger or something like that, so I shall give way to him.

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Mr. MacShane: Alas, poor Hague! I knew him well.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to moral authority. On 14 June The Independent stated that the Conservative party is considering linking up with the Mouvement pour la France, headed by Philippe de Villiers. Mr. de Villiers is a noted Islamophobe in France, and has made remarks about cosmopolitan financiers which many people have interpreted as being anti-Semitic. Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that the Conservative party will not enter into any alliance with that Eurosceptic party from France?

Mr. Hague: Yes I can, actually. There is no proposal to that effect, and no discussions about that party being any part of the new group that we are forming in the European Parliament.

I look forward to hearing later from the new Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Rhondda, about whether the British Government will grant the Republic of Ireland proper legally binding guarantees in the form of protocols in the areas where the Irish Government seek them.

On the second institutional issue, the formal recommendation of the next President of the European Commission is obviously of enormous importance to the EU’s agenda for the next five years. Germany and the incoming Swedish presidency have made their position clear on the timing, but I am not sure that the Foreign Secretary has. He endorsed President Barroso and his work, and I welcomed that, but I hope that the Foreign Secretary will also make it clear that there is every reason for the Council to make the formal recommendation on the President of the Commission now, rather than letting the recommendation drift until October. [ Interruption. ] The Foreign Secretary looks as if I have just asked a tiresome question, but I take it from that that he did not make the point clear earlier in his speech. He ought to have done.

Although we certainly have some important points of difference with Mr. Barroso on some extremely important matters, such as the Lisbon treaty, there is much in his Commission’s record of which he can rightly be proud: real progress on developing the single market and cutting the cost of EU regulation, including the introduction of regulatory impact assessments; a vice-president of the Commission with specific responsibility for better regulation; greater sensitivity to small businesses; a start to tackling the challenge of climate change, and so on.

Mr. Cash: In November 2005, the leader of our party spoke categorically about an imperative policy in relation to competitiveness and the need for repatriation. Does the word “discussions”, used by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) the other day, contradict the word “repatriation” in that context? We should be able to be entirely clear about whether the word “discussions” was inappropriate and needs to be rejected.

Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend can rest assured that nothing that any other colleague has said contradicts the explanations of European policy that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and I have given. Those are, I assure him, the definitive text on these matters, and they will remain so.

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