BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 12.12.99

NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.

Interview: John Maples MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary.


JOHN HUMPHRYS: But first at the European Summit Tony Blair said he was happy to be isolated in Europe over tax. It all sounds rather reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher wielding her handbag. But Mr Blair says it's really not like that at all. Indeed the Tories say the Government is actually giving too much power away to Europe. They want an amendment to European treaties to allow countries to opt out of new legislation. The Shadow Foreign Secretary is John Maples. Mr Maples, you were terribly proud of standing alone in Europe, so why aren't you supporting Mr Blair at this stage in his trial. JOHN MAPLES: When Margaret Thatcher and John Major were standing alone they were achieving things for Britain, like the opt-out from the Single Currency or in Margaret Thatcher's case our rebate on the budget. The reason Tony Blair is standing alone is because his strategy has completely failed. I mean he has come away from Helsinki with none of the things he went there to get. He should have got the withholding the savings tax dumped, taken off the agenda completely. He should have got something done about the Arts tax, instead of which he's failed to get any of those, he's failed to get even beef discussed, put on the agenda. He's failed to get the threat to use qualified majority voting to implement the savings tax put in and he's opened up an agenda for the future of Britain which they are going to discuss extending majority voting and diminishing the national veto. So, none of the things he went there to achieve has he got. HUMPHRYS: You want a much more flexible Europe. You want to be able to opt out of future legislation that you don't like. What are you worried will happen if that doesn't happen? MAPLES: If that doesn't happen, then I think we are on the road to a sort of European state because the agenda that Mr Prodi, who's the President of the Commission wants and Mr Blair appears to be going along with, is to give up the National Veto in all sorts of areas, including tax and possibly defence, these are open to discussion... HUMPHRYS: ..he denies all that of course - just for the record. MAPLES: Well the question of discussing the veto on tax is on the agenda. It may not be on Mr Blair's agenda but it's certainly on Mr Prodi's as is defence. And in this conference which will take place next year, those things will be discussed and whether Britain will have any goodwill or negotiating clout left to stop those remains to be seen. But if you have got an organisation with, you know harmonising rules across everything, employment, social matters, tax, defence - you know it sounds to me very much like a state. Now we don't want that to happen. We believe there's an alternative vision which is of a much more flexible Europe where we all subscribe to common rules on free trade and free markets and competition. But outside that we let people go along with things if they want to and not if they don't want to. HUMPHRYS: So in other words if we don't have the flexibility that you seek we will be run by Europe, to use the slogan. MAPLES: I think so. HUMPHRYS: What you want means - to get what you want means an amendment, negotiating for an amendment to the Treaty of Rome. Now that is clearly a non starter. There isn't a single country in Europe which will go along with that. MAPLES: Well let me just say this to you. There is going to be a Treaty next year for amending the Treaty of Rome. Governments have set this agenda for an enlargement treaty in which... HUMPHRYS: That's rather different from what.. MAPLES: There will be a treaty there which will deal with this problem of how to make the institutions work with a membership of twenty-five or twenty-seven countries. Now clearly something has to change, you can't have the same mechanisms with that many people, that they had with six. One route is giving up vetoes, having more majority voting, enforcing the will of the majority on the minority. The other route is the route that we want to get, the flexibility amendment. Now, if we were to win the next Election, it is likely that that Treaty will have been finalised but not ratified, so there will be an opportunity for us there to say look: we're not going to ratify this Treaty unless we can get changes along the lines that we want. So I think there is an opportunity there to do it and I suspect that it's not going to be true that we're without friends when it actually comes to the crunch. HUMPHRYS: Well it certainly looks like it at the moment. We haven't come to the crunch yet admittedly, but at the moment you don't even have the support of your colleagues on the centre right. Look what John Bruton said "disastrous implications" - I quote "that the European Union". Wilfred Martins "we're concerned about their position" - your position. It doesn't sound very encouraging for you does it. MAPLES: If you talk to some of the parties in the applicant countries, the countries who are hoping to join the European Union, they won't say so publicly but they are very worried about having all these regulations forced on them because it will make them uncompetitive and I think what people like John Bruton and Wilfred Martins have got to focus on is that if the European Union keeps piling these costly regulations on business and the Americans don't do it and they don't it in South East Asia we are going to lose business to those people and jobs to them and at some point they are going to have to confront the realities of a world in which you know business is genuinely global. I know it's a type phrase that's trotted out but it is and investment can move from country to country and region to region and it will not come to Europe if we make our costs artificially high, that's what the commission is doing. HUMPHRYS: It's all very well talking about what the applicant countries, or some of them may or may not want but you would have to have every single country existing and applicant countries, those who join in the future, every single one of them supporting you and at the moment none of them does. MAPLES: Well they will all have to agree but we bring a lot of things.. HUMPHRYS: ..every one.. MAPLES: We bring a lot of things to this party, they do a huge amount of trade with Britain, we are the sort of fundamental of the transatlantic link, we run a trade...although they run a trade surplus with us. I mean I think there are people there who realise what is being talked about is right and important and I think that if we start to put some of these things to play...we are a big contributor to the budget. We pay in something like a billion pounds a month into the European budget and we don't get anything like all of it back. I think that we have some very strong cards to play in these negotiations and at the end of the day it requires unanimity, not just to do what we want but to do what they want. HUMPHRYS: Yes, but I mean all of that has always been true, we've always been since we joined anyway we've always been a very important player. There have been endless things that we have wanted and we have said are absolutely vital and they have told us to clear off because that isn't the way it works. It's impossible literally, I use the word advisedly to see what could happen that would have every single member of the European Union agreeing with your position, a fundamental realignment, a fundamental change of the European Union renegotiating the Treaty of Rome. It's just, one cannot see that...... MAPLES: Well it looks fundamental only in the context of what is currently being proposed, but I think Europe is at a crossroads where it either goes down this integrationist route of more majority voting or it goes down the flexibility route which is ours and it is now at the crossroads - this is not a crossroads that we passed some time ago, so this is relevant and it is essential to enlargement if twelve new members are going to be taken into the European Union - we have to cope with these issues. Now we are in a position to say we are simply not going to sign this Treaty unless we can get some of the flexibility that we want. Now flexibility is already there in the Amsterdam Treaty, there is flexibility for groups of countries to move forward at a faster rate than others so it is not an entirely novel principle, what we are saying is, let's have flexibility in both directions. If some countries don't want to go along with all the legislation about employment matters and regulations on business, they don't have to, but similarly, if other countries want to move ahead on this integrationist road much faster, if there is no huge British interest at stake we don't want to stop them from doing that. So we see a much more flexible community and I think there are advantages for them in that model as well as for us. HUMPHRYS: But if they don't wear it, and at the moment there is no sign that they would, you ulitimately would have to say this is not a Europe of which we could be a member. MAPLES: No I don't think we have to say that, because certainly we are not threatening withdrawal from the European Union. I think it's extremely useful for us, it's good for Britain, it's good for British business, that single market and the free trade........ HUMPHRYS: ........Sure, but you just said it would lead to .......the other, the other, the other avenue down which they might go would lead to a European state. You're not prepared to have a European State, therefore the conclusion must be: MAPLES: But we're in a position to stop that because it requires unanimity to go down that road, just as it requires unanimity to go down the road that we want to go down. HUMPHRYS: But you're leader says we are already going down that road, we are already moving toward much greater integration. MAPLES: Yes, I think we are. And if this agenda that they've set up for next year is completed we will be a long way down, but there will probably be an election in the middle of this process. We will be in a position to say we are not going to sign that integrationist treaty. We want a flexibility model. Now they can't go on down that road without us. HUMPHRYS: It would not though, whatever you do, would not stop some of the new legislation which is unacceptable to you, coming through. So ultimately, you would be in a position of having to say this is something up with which we cannot put. And the alternative there, well there is only one alternative... MAPLES: No, I don't think that's true. I mean, suppose we got our flexibility model and there was still legislation coming through that we didn't like, we've said, in the area of ....... HUMPHRYS: That is a huge supposition..... MAPLES: the area of the single market........well, yes, but in the area where we are prepared to accept qualified majority voting, of how the single market works, we would never have got the single market off the ground without qualified majority voting, we are prepared to accept it in that. We'll get some of the things that we want, and they'll be other things we want that we don't get. But they are not hugely fundamental issues like whether or not there should be national vetoes over tax policies. Whether or not the European Union should have the ability to mount military operations, I mean, this is the road that it is going down. HUMPHRYS: So there are absolutely no circumstances that you can see today, or looking ahead two, five, ten years into the future that might lead to a Tory Government taking Britain out of Europe. None whatsoever. MAPLES: I can't see that, I really can't. And I think that it's hugely valuable to us to be in there, but we want to stop this integrationist, federalist, whatever you like to call it, this road that I believe is leading to a sort of single European state which sets our Tax policy, our Defence policy, our Foreign policy, our Social policy. We are not prepared to have that, but we are in a position to stop that happening, and that's what we will do. HUMPHRYS: Quick word about Steve Norris who wants to be Mayor of London and your Party doesn't want him to be. You must have been rather devastated, you in the Leadership, to see what the London party did to him. I know you will say democracy and all that, he says no, but it was a bit of a blow for you, wasn't it? MAPLES: Well, I was surprised, I think Steve would have been a good candidate, but I think there are some other good candidates in the short list, Joan Hanham and Doreen Miller. I am surprised they didn't choose Steve, but this is democracy and as somebody said, it doesn't always get it right, but we have left it to the local party in London to choose their candidate and these are the choices that they are making. HUMPHRYS: He says exactly the opposite. Unrepresentative, talking of the committee that booted him out, unrepresentative and undemocratic. MAPLES: Well, they are all elected by the party members and the different constituencies who then elect an area committee and executive to do this. HUMPHRYS: A dozen people? MAPLES: Well, you know, all these decisions at the end of the day are made by relatively small numbers of people at this sort of vetting stage, the final decision, every member of the party gets a vote. HUMPHRYS: Why do you have to vet somebody like Steve Norris? MAPLES: Well, there were fifteen people who put their names into being Mayor of London. They couldn't all go forward to the next stage. HUMPHRYS: Why not? Real democracy? MAPLES: Well, I think it would have been far too complicated to do that. So I think that what you are getting here is a democratic process, the people who made this decision are elected, as I said, I am surprised, but I think there are some good candidates still in there and I hope that one of them will win. HUMPHRYS: Does rather make you look like a party with a death wish, doesn't it? MAPLES: Oh, I don't think so. No. I mean, I think that we have just been talking about an area where we have an incredibly positive agenda and a vision for Europe. Totally different from the Government's. I don't think we have got a death wish at all. We very much want to be in a position to put that into action. HUMPHRYS: John Maples, thank you very much indeed.