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
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
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
HUMPHRYS: That's rather different
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
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
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
HUMPHRYS: That is a huge supposition.....
MAPLES: .....in 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
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.