ON THE RECORD
TONY BLAIR INTERVIEW
RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION BBC-1 DATE: 16.11.97
JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon from Chequers, the Prime
Minister's country home. I'll be talking to Tony Blair in his first interview
since the storm broke over tobacco advertising and Formula One. How will he
deal with suspicions that have been aroused in this, the first real political
crisis to hit his government? That's after the News read by MOIRA STUART
HUMPHRYS: I'm here in Chequers with the Prime
Minister for his first interview since the storm blew up over what has now
become known as the Bernie Ecclestone affair. I'll be talking to him about
that in a few minutes. But first..... Iraq
Prime Minister, you spoke to President
Clinton last night. What did you say to him, and he to you?
TONY BLAIR: We agreed that we had to stand very firm
on the issue of Iraq, and making sure that they comply with the UN resolutions,
because it's absolutely essential that the weapons inspectors, the UN weapons
inspectors including the American part of that contingent are allowed to do
their work properly.
HUMPHRYS: Other Security Council members don't
want military intervention. Are you prepared, in the event that diplomatic
efforts fail, are you prepared with the United States, to go it alone?
BLAIR: We certainly don't want to do that and
that's not what we're working towards. We want a diplomatic solution as well.
I mean everyone wants this crisis brought to an end peacefully, but I think it
is worth just explaining to people why it's so important that the UN inspectors
are able to do their work. Saddam Hussein has been trying to develop
biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. If he were able to do so
the whole of the Middle East would be destabilised, and we could have a
situation even worse than the Gulf War. The UN resolution passed back in
nineteen-ninety-one made it absolutely clear that UN weapons inspectors were to
go in and were to stay until all those weapons of mass destruction were
eliminated and the potential for developing them eliminated. Our view is that
we have to make sure that that resolution is carried through. We want to do it
diplomatically, but we must reserve the option of force if diplomatic means
HUMPHRYS: So that even though British strategic
interests are not directly affected here - I take your point about weapons of
mass destruction obviously affecting the entire world, but in this particular
case British strategic ... is not directly affected. You would nonetheless be
prepared to put British lives at risk here?
BLAIR: Well, I would say that our strategic
interests are affected in the sense that if Saddam Hussein was able to develop
weapons of mass destruction the strategic interests of the entire world would
be affected by that, and of course you could make roughly the same point in
relation to his invasion. I think the lessons that we have learnt with Saddam
Hussein is that he understands only the language of diplomacy if it is backed
up by the threat of the use of force, and we have to make him back down on
this. If he doesn't back down then he can carry on developing these weapons,
and then as I say, the whole of the situation in the Middle East would be
destabilised and there would be the possibility of a really really serious
conflagration there, possibly even worse than what happened in the Gulf War.
HUMPHRYS: And if the UN is not prepared to make
him back down as you put it, you with the United States, are?
BLAIR: Well, let us wait and see how this
HUMPHRYS: But, you're not ruling that out?
BLAIR: We don't rule out any option at all, but
we are not seeking to use military force. We're seeking to get a diplomatic
solution, but it is essential that Saddam Hussein knows that if necessary it
will be clear to him that the UN resolution about the weapons inspectors must
be enforced. If we don't do that now then in my judgement we'll end up in a
far worse situation later on.
HUMPHRYS: But what he wants to do is kick out -
what he has done - is kick out the American inspectors, six out of what is it
- eighty or so altogether. Those inspections could carry on without the
Americans, so it's beginning to look as if you're doing it just because the
Americans want you to do it. It's America saving face in a sense here isn't
BLAIR: No, it's more that that John, because
this has been a whole process of him trying to obstruct, to harry, to deceive.
He has been trying to deceive these weapons inspectors all the way through, and
if he's allowed to do this and allowed to get away with saying: Look, I'll
only have these weapons inspectors in, and then the next stage will be: but
they'll only look at this, they won't look at that, and then we're back to the
game that we've played with him over a very long period of time.
HUMPHRYS: But if you attack him you're playing
into his hands aren't you. You'll make a hero to his own people, to other Arab
countries - you'll construct on his behalf a coalition behind him in effect.
BLAIR: Well, I don't believe that, provided
that it is clear to people why we are acting. That's why I think it's so
important you go back to the original resolution. At the conclusion of the
Gulf War it was decided that the UN had to make sure that all these techniques
that he was developing, the infrastructure for developing weapons of mass
destruction were eliminated. Now, we took that decision at the end of the Gulf
War absolutely rightly. If we hadn't taken it then we would have left him in
place developing these weapons, so we knew that was there. Now, what's
interesting just to point out to people, is that in this previous six years
these weapons inspectors have actually managed to eliminate a considerable part
of the facility that Saddam Hussein has had. So they have not merely been
there as it were, as a sort of token of the world's concern about what Saddam
Hussein has been doing. They have been there performing a task of central
importance and actually achieving results because of it. Now if they were then
to be pushed out of that situation well, I think we all know what would happen.
HUMPHRYS: But the idea that threatening Saddam
Hussein with a few bombs, a few missiles, is going to get him to back down in a
case like this is frankly nonsense isn't it?
BLAIR: Well, I don't know about that at all. I
think that he does ....
HUMPHRYS: It hasn't worked in the past. We've
been here before.
BLAIR: We have been here before and we have
often secured results better than we otherwise would have if we hadn't made it
clear that the language of diplomacy is the language that we want to use. But
he has to understand that if he doesn't comply with the resolutions then the
option of force is there.
HUMPHRYS: How far are you prepared to go?
BLAIR: Well I don't think it would be sensible
to go into that now.
HUMPHRYS: But more than just a few bombs and a few
BLAIR: Well let us wait and see. I mean I don't
think it would be an intelligent way of proceeding if I was to start...
HUMPHRYS: But did President Clinton tell you what
he is prepared to do?
BLAIR: Of course we have discussed with the
Americans all the various options and of course we discuss with all of our
colleagues in the UN Security Council what can be done. But what is essential
for Saddam Hussein is to realise - get the message - get the message and get it
clear and straight these UN Resolutions are there to protect the world. We're
not allowing you develop weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical
weapons and we will stop you if you try to do so.
HUMPHRYS: And you will go as far as President
Clinton, we in Britain will go as far as President Clinton wants us to go, not
withstanding other members of the United Nations Security Council?
BLAIR: Well we are working with those other
members but I think..
HUMPRHYS: They're making it very clear to you they
don't want military action taken.
BLAIR: Nobody wants military action taken but I
think what is important is that we stand firm with our allies, the United
States, in making it clear to Saddam Hussein that he will not be allowed to get
away with it. If we don't, we'll find that we're in a far more serious
situation than we are today and as I say, I do simply ask people to contemplate
what would happen if Saddam Hussein was allowed to develop these weapons. We
know he's used chemical warfare against his own people. He's used them against
the Kurds. He is not a man that is going to listen to any language of reason
or sweetness unless the person using it is also carrying a big stick.
HUMPHRYS: So ultimately if it's just America and
us carrying that big stick, we will carry it and we will use it.
BLAIR: Well let us wait and see what develops.
HUMPHRYS: You're prepared for that?
BLAIR: I have no doubt at all that it is
essential that Saddam Hussein is stopped developing these weapons. If he isn't
stopped the consequences are extremely serious. Now we want to do this as part
of a diplomatic effort, we want a diplomatic solution. All I am saying, which I
think is the only thing you can say, if you're serious about getting a result,
is to say that he must understand that if diplomatic means fail, we have all
the other options available to us.
HUMPHRYS: Let's turn to the other subject. The
subject you really came on to talk about mainly this morning, and that is
Formula One racing, tobacco sponsorship and the row that there is over that. I
read in the newspapers this morning that you are going to apologise during this
interview because you got it all wrong. Is that right?
BLAIR: Well I didn't get it all wrong in
relation to the original decision as I'll be very happy to explain. But it
hasn't been handled well and for that I take full responsibility and I
apologise for that. I suppose what I would say to you is that perhaps I didn't
focus on this and the seriousness of it in the way that I should as I was
focusing on other issues. And in part, which is why I feel in one sense hurt
and upset by what has been written about this, that I would never ever do
something wrong or improper or change a policy because someone supported or
donated to the Labour Party. I didn't in this case. I couldn't understand that
anyone would impugn those..my motives in taking the decisions that I did. You
know I guess I should have, you know we should learn the lesson of that and
when something like this happens again, you deal with it quicker and in a
better way and we should have done that.
HUMPHRYS: What did you get wrong?
BLAIR: I think what was important was to
realise how serious this was and I think the way that this was sort of dribbled
out has not been satisfactory or right. But what I would like to think that we
got right was the way that we behaved. If I could just explain the sequence of
events to you and can I preface it by saying John, that, you know, over this
past ten days, obviously I've had a long series of discussions with people
about this issue. Up until the point in time when this all blew up, I suppose
in the six months of government, I'd spent maybe forty-five minutes, an hour,
on Formula One in the first six months of government. I know when you go back
over it then and every single thing is picked apart, it looks as if you know
the great issue of Mr Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One, was the thing the
government was concentrating on above all else, but it wasn't. However, the
sequence of events quite simply was this: before the election, Mr Ecclestone
had made a donation to the Labour Party. After the election, we certainly
thought, this was my understanding, that he'd made a firm commitment to further
donations to the Labour Party. Then we had the situation that arose and that
was back in May. The situation arose that the European Union directive and what
the government position should be in relation to it, the European Union
directive was about banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship. The
government's position, right the way through, was that in principle we
supported the directive but were concerned about the effect upon sport because
everyone always realises there's a problem with sport. Various discussions
went on about this.
I saw Bernie Ecclestone and the Formula
One people on the sixteenth of October. Now, again, I mean this hasn't much
appeared anywhere, he'd already seen Chancellor Kohl of Germany a couple of
weeks before, he'd seen the Prime Minister of Italy. His representatives had
meetings with other senior representatives of other governments in Europe. We
were all concerned that if you simply put out sponsorship, tobacco sponsorship
for Formula One, because it's a global sport and all these other countries are
willing to take the Grand Prix in Europe and then run them without any tobacco
restrictions and then broadcast the pictures back in this country, we were
concerned to make sure that we didn't end up in the situation where we lost
As of the sixteenth of October, we had
the meeting, the twenty minute meeting. After that there were various
discussions about the options as to what we should do in relation to tobacco
sponsorship, sport, Formula One. When at the beginning of last week, it was
eventually decided and the minister wrote out to a European colleague saying we
actually want a specific exemption for Formula One, and this is in line with
what many other countries do. At that point in time, and I want to emphasise
this, I said of course we can't accept any further donations from Mr
Ecclestone, before any journalist had been in touch, anything to do with
donations and Mr Ecclestone, we had informed his people that we couldn't accept
further donations, the question then arose which was the question which was
uppermost in my mind, what about the original donation? We decided to seek the
advice of Sir Patrick Neill. We did so on the Friday.
HUMPHRYS: He's the chairman of the Standards
BLAIR: He's the chairman of the Watchdog
Committee. We got his advice back on the Monday. We published that advice and
we followed it to the letter. And the reason why we took the decision on
Formula One was perfectly simple, because we believed that the derogation
period for sport wasn't long enough and there was a serious risk, as I say
shared by many other European countries, that if we forced them to rely not at
all on tobacco sponsorship then we would lose the industry and the Grand Prix
HUMPHRYS: Right. Can I go back on a few of those
HUMPHRYS: Because you say you want to clear all
this up - draw a line under the whole thing. That original meeting - the
October the sixteenth meeting with Bernie Ecclestone. As you say, you knew
that he had donated a million pounds to the Party and there was more money,
perhaps, on its way?
BLAIR: Well, I thought, he'd given a firm
commitment to that.
HUMPHRYS: Fine. Ok. He denied it subsequently.
HUMPHRYS: There we are. When he asked, therefore,
for a meeting with you, with the Prime Minister, shouldn't a little warning
light have come on in your head that said: Well, now, yeah, of course, I know
he's met Chancellor Kohl and all those other people. He hadn't given them a
million pounds. He's given your Party a million pounds - helped you a great
deal to be elected. And, there was talk of the other money coming in, as well.
Shouldn't that little warning light have said: Hang on a minute, should I be
seeing him under these circumstances? Should I not say: No, I won't see you.
You go and see somebody else. Or, alternatively, perhaps, I'll give the money
back before I see him?
BLAIR: John, at the time, on the sixteenth of
October, it hadn't been decided that we should exempt Formula One.
HUMPHRYS: No, no, that isn't the point.
HUMPHRYS: You knew that he was going to ask you to
BLAIR: No. He didn't ask us to do that.
BLAIR: No, no.
HUMPHRYS: He wanted help from you-
BLAIR: Of course.
HUMPHRYS: -for his industry.
BLAIR: Of course.
HUMPHRYS: This is the key point, isn't it?
BLAIR: Yes, but-
HUMPHRYS: He wanted something from you and he had
given you a million pounds?
BLAIR: Yes, but the point is that as at the
sixteenth of October there'd been no decision to exempt Formula One. We never
discussed an exemption of Formula One. What would be odd, frankly -
particularly, after he'd seen other Heads of Government, including Chancellor
Kohl and Prime Minister Padraig - is that because he'd been a donor to the
Labour Party, you refused to see him and passed him onto somebody else in the
HUMPHRYS: Well, that's a matter of opinion, isn't
it? At least, perhaps, that warning light should have gone on in your head
that said: Look, how is this going to look? Here's a man who's given not just
a fiver to the Party, who's given a million pounds - a very substantial sum of
money. You thought that he had promised to give yet more money, since you were
elected to power and you knew that he was going to ask you to do something that
was hugely going to help his industry, his own fortunes. Shouldn't that
warning light have gone on in your head, before you sat down at Number
Ten-Number Ten with him?
BLAIR: No. Because I had absolutely no
intention, whatever, of changing the policy because of the interests of Bernie
Ecclestone, plus the fact we had not decided that that was the route that we
were going to go down and the moment that we did that was two weeks later and
decided: well, the route we go down is a specific exemption for Formula One.
As I say, in many other countries they do. At that point in time, I said:
well, look, of course, since we have decided to do that-
HUMPHRYS: But, it was-The question is whether it
was too late to do it?
BLAIR: Well, it wasn't too late.
HUMPHRYS: You see, because what-what I'm
suggesting-Should you-Alright, you've already said: No, you don't think you
should have called off that meeting, or said you wanted to.......-
BLAIR: No, because I think it would have been
bizarre if a bloke had been in a worse position as a result of donating to the
HUMPHRYS: Alright. Should you not-should you not,
at the very least, have referred the matter to Sir Patrick Neill?
BLAIR: No. Because, at that point in time, if,
for example, we had gone down the routes that were being discussed, at the
time. One was that the whole of the European directive, the whole series of
issues in relation to this directive had been discussed at the time - points
and difficulties. One of the options was, for example, that there should be
subsidiarity applied. So, broad principles were set up by Europe and, then,
national legislation. Another thing that was being discussed is that there
should be a long derogation period for all sport-
HUMPHRYS: Yes, now I-
BLAIR: -for all sport. Yes, but the point that
I'm making to you is this 'cos this is absolutely crucial. There was no need.
Had we had a general derogation for Sport which applied equally to Formula One,
there would have been no need to have returned the original gift or sought Sir
Patrick Neill's advice. The issue of a conflict - appearance of a conflict of
interest - only arose when we decided not to treat all sport the same but to
exempt Formula One specifically, as many other countries were doing, as other
countries wanted us to do, because many other countries in Europe are
supporting the position-
BLAIR: -that we're taking. So, it was at that
point in time that I thought that we should seek the advice of Sir Patrick
Neill. Now, you can say: well, you could have done this a couple of weeks ago
but I didn't think that was necessary, given that there was no appearance of
conflict of interest until Formula One-
HUMPHRYS: Well, I-I-
BLAIR: -specifically was signalled out.
HUMPHRYS: -am-am saying that and I'm saying that
because there is a question of when a business that has made a gift to a
political Party comes into contact, comes into contact with the Government you
ought to have second thoughts about that original gift. Now, as you will know,
those aren't my words - I've taken that from a letter that you approved that
was sent to Sir Patrick Neill three weeks after that meeting.
BLAIR: Exactly. Yes, but John, let me explain
to you the problem that you have there and it's precisely for that reason we've
asked Sir Patrick Neill to look at this and to look at all the various issues
that arise. I'm in the situation of the Labour Party where before the General
Election I needed to raise money for the Labour Party. I didn't want the
Labour Party solely to be dependent on Trade Union funds.
HUMPHRYS: No, I've not raised a question about
BLAIR: I know, I know, hang on, but it's
important we understand the context of this. I wanted to make sure that the
Labour Party raised at least the money to fight a decent Election campaign.
Because we were getting outspent four/five to one by the Tories, back in the
Nineteen-Eighties and at the previous Elections. If you, then, seek private
donations from business people, now, there is a question of principle, which is
the one that I've raised - as you rightly say - with Sir Patrick Neill.
HUMPHRYS: Three weeks later - three weeks after
BLAIR: Well, yes but that was when the position
arose of exempting Formula one specifically.
HUMPHRYS: But, that was, also, after the whole
thing had hit the headlines. It was causing problems for you.
BLAIR: No. No, hang on. Now, that is
where-No, I really resent this being said.
HUMPHRYS: It was November the seventh...
BLAIR: No, hang on John, let me just state the
facts to people, because I've said to you I don't think we've handled this
well, and we haven't, but some of the stuff that's been written in the papers
and blown up out of all proportion - some of the rubbish written today about
David Sainsbury and people, I mean just...
HUMPHRYS: We'll come to that in a minute.
BLAIR: I mean, just ridiculous nonsense. On
the fifth of November we said to Mr Ecclestone: we can't accept anymore
donations from you. That was done before any inquiry ...
HUMPHRYS: That isn't the point I'm making.
BLAIR: No, you're raising the letter on the
seventh of November. The next day we start to discuss what are we going to do
about the original donation. Again, before any press inquiry had begun we
discuss what the options are, we then - intervening in that period is the
French/British summit. I say finally: Look, I think we should consult Patrick
Neill. By then at the conclusion of the French/British summit, on the Friday
evening look at the letter that Tom Sawyer's going to send, agree the letter
the General Secretary of the Party is going to send to Sir Patrick Neill, and
we send the letter.
HUMPHRYS: Now, and what that letter says is not
when a decision is made, raises questions about contacts with businesses when a
decision is made. It says: when a business that made a gift comes into contact
with that donor. But you came into contact with that donor on October the
BLAIR: Exactly, which is precisely why ...
HUMPHRYS: .. and you didn't raise it with him
BLAIR: No, because the point that I'm making
to you is, that the very issue of principle that now arises, which is why it's
important to have Sir Patrick Neill's advice on this on the long-term, is any
business that's going to donate - you're telling me that over the twenty years
of Conservative government with the donations that were made there was never
HUMPHRYS: No-one is here to talk about the
Conservatives, because we want to clear up this business.
BLAIR: Exactly, but the point that I'm saying
to you is, there is a genuine point of principle here, that if you are going to
have, not state funding but private donations, I can't see myself how it's
going to be possible to raise any money if whenever a business could possibly
be affected by any aspect of government policy, you then say that you can't
accect a donation. It's a point of principle that we....
HUMPHRYS: No, it isn't. But I think you're
missing the point that I'm making here. It isn't a question of whether you
accept the donation or not, it's a question of whether when a donation has been
made, as you rightly say Sir Patrick Neill had no problem with the original
donation. He said so - that incidentally is the only thing that he has said on
this particular topic in this particular context. The question is knowing that
you are in receipt of that sort of money from somebody when he then makes
contact with you, and says: I want to talk to you Prime Minister about a
BLAIR: You give it back straight away then.
BLAIR: I mean, look....
HUMPHRYS: Some people might say you do that, or
you say: I'm sorry Mr Ecclestone, I don't think I should see you now.
BLAIR: Yes, but John, that is why I say to you
that if what had been under discussion then was the idea - that the route under
discussion was that there should be an exemption for Formula One, then I think
you may be right in saying that, but that wasn't what - there were a whole
series of options that were being discussed. Now my judgement, and you can say
whether it's right or wrong, was that it was only when it was clear there could
be the appearance of a conflict of interest, because we were specifically
exempting Formula One as opposed to all sport, that I then decided that we had
HUMPHRYS: But you wrote a letter - you wrote a
note to your Health Secretary the day after that meeting with Ecclestone, and
you said: Let's look for a compromise in this matter.
BLAIR: Well, what I said was: We've got to
protect the position of sports in general and Formula One in particular...
HUMPHRYS: That's right.
BLAIR: ... because what I don't want to do is
wake up one day and find that Britain, the whole of Formula One and the Grand
Prix has chucked the damned lot out.
HUMPHRYS So in other words you had done something
that Ecclestone would have been very pleased about. Now I'm not suggesting to
you what your motives for doing that....
BLAIR: Yes, but the whole of sport in those
HUMPHRYS: Yes, but I'm talking about the timing
here again Prime Minister.
HUMPHRYS: You wrote that letter the day after you
had had that meeting with Ecclestone so therefore a decision had been taken.
You were still in receipt of that money. At that point you hadn't given that
money back. This is one of the reasons why people's suspicions have been
BLAIR: Yes, but John, first of all the money
had been taken and spent. As Sir Patrick Neill himself said, no criticism can
fairly be made of the receipt of the money...
HUMPHRYS: No, we've already dealt with that, but
he didn't talk about that and the meeting in combination, he talked merely
about the receipt of that cheque.
BLAIR: I know. but at that point in time, in
my judgement - you know we can go round this for ages. My judgement was that
the potential of a conflict of interest would arise when we specifically
exempted Formula One. Now, you may disagree and say, well, you should have
done it two weeks before rather than when you did it. The point that I'm
making to you is that we did it without any ...
BLAIR ... compulsion whatever, before any
press inquiry had been made whatever, before anybody could have said to us:
well, Mr Ecclestone has you know, offered to give further donations or
whatever. So, all I'm trying to say to you is, you know, you may disagree with
the steps that we took, or say, you could have taken this step earlier or that
step earlier, ..
BLAIR: ... but I ask you, you know in
circumstances where we turned down further donations, we then write to Sir
Patrick Neill, we accept Sir Patrick Neill's advice, we carry it through.
Well, you know, you can disagree about various customers along they way,
but I mean you know, it's hardly that the act of people that are...
HUMPHRYS: Okay, but as you say, people can
disagree and interpret things a different way. So let's if we may just look at
the circumstances of that meeting. A terribly important meeting as you said
yourself, terribly important policy. Well, no, no, a terribly important policy
matter was being discussed. As you say other people would argue but you say
fifty thousand jobs in Britain potentially at stake. Now, who was at that
meeting, was there apart from Jonathan Powell, your own man who has been with
you in the Labour Party for a long time, was there a senior Civil Servant
present at that meeting?
BLAIR: Yes, of course there was.
HUMPHRYS: And was he taking notes?
BLAIR: Well I want to deal with this
specifically, because I mean I'm just furious at this idea that people sort of
say, well you know you had the meeting, there was no formal minute taken as if
I'd instructed this to happen. I gave...the meeting lasted I think just under
twenty minutes. There was a Private Secretary there.
HUMPHRYS: A senior figure in the Civil Service?
BLAIR: Exactly. He took a note of it. He did
not make it into a formal minute because there was no decision taken at that
meeting and nothing actually new was said really on either side. I have
subsequently asked that he put his notes, which are the handwritten notes, in
writing, fill it out with any other recollections he has of the meeting and I'm
prefectly happy to publish that. I don't want to set a precedent, I'm not going
back publishing everything, but I'm perfectly happy to publish his notes of
that meeting and I never gave any instructions about whether minutes should be
published or not published, notes taken or not taken. And you know, it was a
meeting of less than, as I say, twenty minutes or just under twenty minutes in
the midst of a whole series of other things and this suggestion that I somehow,
which is the implicit suggestion, said well don't, this is a sort dodgy
meeting, don't take a note or a minute of it, is rubbish and people can see
them. I'm not setting a precedent of that incidently, because otherwise people
will be asking me to publish everything.
HUMPHRYS: It would be nice to have all the minutes
of all the meetings. But why didn't you do it earlier - publish those notes?
Bearing in mind...
BLAIR: Because we'd done nothing wrong.
HUMPHRYS: Because loads...because we're talking
about appearances aren't we...Martin Bell made in the House of Commons.
BLAIR: As long as we are talking about
HUMPHRYS: That's what some people are looking at,
other people are raising suspicions which...
BLAIR: .....just spit them out. The very
suspicions people have got, they can put it to me you know bluntly rather than
sort of, you know in this sort of covert way. But let me just say to you, okay
you can argue for appearances sake we should have done lots of different things
but I was and this is where you know I said to you right at the very beginning
of this, I apologised for the way we handled this. I should have realised this
and it blew up. But you know you don't normally publish the notes of these
meetings and I resent the fact that people are suggesting that somehow Bernie
Ecclestone came in to see me and started talking about fundraising.
HUMPHRYS: But you see this is part of the problem
isn't it. Let me just ask you when you are going to publish those notes before
we move on.
BLAIR: Well we'll do it today. I mean I'm
perfectly happy, yeah.
HUMPHRYS: So that will be..
BLAIR: You can see exactly what was said and
you'll see that what I'm saying to Mr Ecclestone. I mean he makes the case,
what I say to him is: look of course we see the case for Formula One but we
also want to see a ban on tobacco advertising. Let me just say this to you, the
European Union directive, the previous government blocked consistently. We
agree in principle to it. If we agree it even with the exemption with Formula
One, there will be the biggest reduction in advertising sponsorship, in respect
of tobacco this country or Europe has ever seen. Not that you'd think that if
you'd read the coverage of it but anyway.
HUMPHRYS: On this question of publishing the
notes. You say that you should have been more forthcoming, everybody should
have been more forthcoming and more focussed on this. Part of the problem..
BLAIR: More focussed anyhow.....
HUMPHRYS: Part of the reason for any suspicions
that have been raised is that, the information has had to be dragged out of you
at every stage. When you stood up in the House and took Prime Minister's
Questions, you didn't then tell them about the second donation that you'd
thought you'd had from Bernie Ecclestone. You conceded that there'd been this
million of course, but you didn't then say: well by the way we're asking them
and we think they agreed to give us another bunch of money.
BLAIR: Yes but again, let me just deal with
this. My whole focus was on the original donation for a very simple reason.
That though we thought they'd been a firm commitment to a further donation to
the Labour Party back in May, before the European directive had been thought
of, no money had actually ever been received or paid over and I had then
rescinded as it were, the offer because I'd said to the people back then, well
you can't do this. So it couldn't have had any possible impact on it and my
entire focus then was on the original donation because that's what I thought
people would think: come on, you know there was a million pounds paid before
the election, and now they're changing the policy. I mean actually I would
even like to come and deal with that, but you know that we appear to be
changing the policy to favour Mr Ecclestone. But the only reason anyone knows
about a further offer that was made was because we disclosed it to Sir Patrick
Neill. Now you can say to me again, well shouldn't you have gone through that
in the House of Commons. All I can say to you is I was focused on the original
HUMPHRYS: But you can see why people like Iain
Duncan Smith are suggesting that you misled the House because you didn't
BLAIR: Well I certainly did not mislead the
House and you know, it's just absurd to say that in circumstances where the
only reason that anyone knows there was a further offer was because I disclosed
HUMPHRYS: But you knew about it at the time, in
the House, when you stood there on that Wednesday.
BLAIR: I had already disclosed it to Sir
Patrick Neill. The reason I didn't consider...
HUMPHRYS: You disclosed it to Sir Patrick Neill,
you didn't tell the House.
BLAIR: Well Sir Patrick Neill and then who
copied the letters to the other members of his committee. But what I am saying
to you is that I did not consider that important at the time because we'd never
received any money and we'd already rescinded any commitment for more money. So
what I thought was the difficulty in this situation - again you can say well
you should have thought this further offer would be a problem. You know, what
I thought was: well here we are actually turning away further donations. So I
don't think that's a problem, but surely the problem is what happens to this
HUMPHRYS: So I mean, in that sense it would have
been ... of you wouldn't it, to have stood up in the House and said: look,
forget about the ot her million, we've actually turned away the possibility of
other money even though Bernie Ecclestone as you know, subsequently said he
hadn't offered you any more.
BLAIR: You could have said that. But my..all
I'm doing is explaining that my focus was on the original gift because that's
where all the furore was.
HUMPHRYS: Was that a mistake, then?
BLAIR: Well, you can say you should have done..
but all I say....
HUMPHRYS: Well, what do you say? Do you regret
BLAIR: Well, I - I - no. I explain it by
saying that at the time that was not what was uppermost in my mind and I had
already disclosed it to Sir Patrick Neill. And, we can argue about whether it
could have been done or not, but it was there in the letter to Sir Patrick
Neill and that's the reason why people know about it.
Now, again, you can say: Well, that was
not properly handled. But, you know, I simply say to you, John, how many times
before now has any political party ever consulted the watchdog, got his advice,
published it, followed it, turned away further donations? So, we've not merely
exempted Formula One, we've actually lost the Labour Party a considerable sum
of money because we took the right policy decision.
HUMPHRYS: Right. So, what - when those newspaper
headlines this morning talked about Tony Blair saying I'm sorry, I got it
wrong, you're not actually in this interview saying: I got things wrong.
You're saying: we presented them badly, we didn't do a very good job of
handling the way it all came out. But, as far as you are concerned, everything
you did was right. You'd still have another meeting with Bernie Ecclestone,
the way you did over - and all the rest of it. You're not saying: sorry,
anything was wrong in respect of your actions?
BLAIR: No, I'm not saying - absolutely, I am
not saying that it is wrong to have accepted money.
HUMPHRYS: No, no. Or anything, or any of those
things that you've done.
BLAIR: Hang on, let me just go for it. I'm not
saying it's wrong to have accepted money from Mr Ecclestone. It's perfectly
incorrect to say so.
HUMPRHRYS: No, no....-
BLAIR: And, nobody's made any criticism of
that. I'm not saying that it was wrong to meet Bernie Ecclestone because it
would be bizarre if someone was in a worse position as having donated to the
Labour Party than a better one and I'm not saying it was wrong to consult Sir
Patrick Neill. I believe it was right to consult Sir Patrick Neill. What was
wrong was - as you say - it should not have come out in dribs and drabs and we
should have focussed on this issue a lot earlier.
HUMPHRYS: Two - two members of your own National
Executive Committee - Ken Livingstone, Diane Abbott - say there ought to be an
inquiry into this whole thing. Would that be sensible now? Clear it all up?
Do you want to do that?
BLAIR: No. There is absolutely no need for
that. Sir Patrick Neill is looking at all these matters and let me just say
another couple of things about this, too, in relation to Party funding. The
Labour Party is in this position because we disclosed the names of our donors.
No other political party does. And, I want to say to you: I am perfectly happy
to disclose the names of donors immediately from - yes - going back from
nineteen-ninety-two, that was the Election year when we started to build up to
the last General Election - to now, provided that it is not just the Labour
Party that has to do this but the other political Parties ....
HUMPHRYS: And, will you disclose them when you get
the money? Because I talked to Gordon Brown last Monday and he said: I don't
know anything about any donations from Bernie Ecclestone. Will you, when you
get the money in - will you say: Yeah! This is what we've got? Not wait for a
year, or whatever it happens to be?
BLAIR: I'm perfectly happy to disclose the
names of when we receive donations. The question then arises: would we
disclose the amount of the donation? The donations that have been given to the
Labour Party up to now, have been donations given with the amount being kept
confidential but, again, I am perfectly happy to supply Sir Patrick Neill with
a list of the donations and the amount, provided the Labour Party is not
singled out at this...........Conservatives do it as well.
HUMPHRYS: Make everybody do it.
BLAIR: Well, that's exactly what I want to do.
The other thing I wanted to say to you was that when Sir Patrick Neill comes to
look at party political funding, I hope very much we do look at not merely on
the rules of disclosure but proper monitoring on a limit on the amount of money
that is being paid over.
HUMPHRYS: How much, do you think - yourself?
BLAIR: Well, I mean, I think, you can argue
about this. But, I think you could say if you wanted, that it was a five
thousand limit and no more. I mean, I'm not committing myself.
HUMPHRYS: So, that might be. You might - but you
might agree to that: a five thousand limit?
BLAIR: If Sir Patrick Neill was to recommend
that, I think, we certainly would agree to do that.
HUMPHRYS: But, what about a limit on total
BLAIR: As long as it's the same for both
HUMPHRYS: Well, then, that's in your power, isn't
it? You can pass a law - got a big enough majority, haven't you?
BLAIR: Of course, we can pass a law and if - as
I say - I am perfectly happy to pass that information over to Sir Patrick Neill
now, provided the other political Parties do it too, because we're-
BLAIR: - you know, in a situation, today, for
example. I mean, there's poor David Sainsbury getting absolute pilloried on
the basis of some - because he's a supporter of the Labour Party.
HUMPHRYS: He's also made a large donation to the
BLAIR: He has made a large donation to the
HUMPHRYS: People were saying in some newspapers
this morning that because of that he's had favourable treatment for his
supermarket chain for....-
BLAIR: Yeah, but let's just analyse this a
minute 'cos this is where, as I say: Look, I've said we didn't handle things in
the right way. I've said that to you and I've been through all the points that
you've asked me and I think you would agree that I have tried to answer all
those points. What is completely ridiculous is to start - David Sainsbury's
name's published in the Labour Party's accounts and that's the only reason
everyone knows about him. This his planning application was - as far as I can
work out - was decided by a Planning Inspector. You know, the idea that
because David Sainsbury gave to the Labour Party and that some Planning
Inspector decided a Planning Application for Sainsbury's - I mean, it's
HUMPHRYS: So, isn't that why you've got to - you
say, you're prepared to do whatever Sir Patrick Neill recommends. Isn't that
BLAIR: Well, yeah, it's subject to this. I may
want to go further.
HUMPHRYS: Right. Right.
So, if he says-
BLAIR: If he was to say - if he were to say-
HUMPHRYS: No limit on donations - let's say.
Would you say: No, there must be a limit on donations?
BLAIR: Well, let's see how the argument goes.
But, my own preference would be to say there should be a limit on donations.
HUMPHRYS: Right, but you haven't decided on that.
HUMPHRYS: You say it might be five thousand
BLAIR: No, I haven't decided on that because-I
don't think it's very sensible to sort of make - you know to make a decision
now before we've seen what he actually says.
HUMPHRYS: But, we're not talking about a million
pounds here, are we? When we talk about a limit, we're not talking about mega
sums of money?
BLAIR: I'm talking about anything, provided it
applies to all Parties and I think-
HUMPHRYS: So, it might be a million ?
BLAIR: No, and I think - what I was going to
say to you is that there is a case for making it a far smaller amount.
HUMPHRYS: And what about the limit on the total
amount of money that should be spent by a Party during a General Election?
BLAIR: Well I think there's a case for that
too. I mean again I'm not going to snap on it now but I think there's a case
for that, provided it applies to them.
HUMPHRYS: Well it would have to wouldn't it?
HUMPHRYS: I mean we're talking about-You see this
is what puzzles me when you say: provided it applies to them. It is in your
power to tell Parliament that you, your Party, the Government, is going to
introduce legislation and then everybody's got to abide by it. So it's not a
question of provided they abide by it, it would wouldn't it?
BLAIR: Of course it would apply to any future
questions. But what I'm saying to you, however, is that I'm prepared to
disclose the previous donations.
BLAIR: Yeah, and do that now provided the other
Parties are prepared to so the same. What I'm not prepared to do is to labour
people, literally sort of pilloring, dragged through the mud, because we
disclose their names and the Tories are sitting there having turning around
some deficit before the Election - vast millions of pounds deficit into a
surplus and run a hugely funded Election Campaign and they're not prepared to
disclose any names or tell us whatever has happened to that money.
HUMPHRYS: Alright, before we leave the question of
Formula One, I read this morning too that there's going to be another U-turn
here, that you're actually now deciding that after all there should be some
limit on a ban, after what, ten years?
BLAIR: No. We have always again - let me - I
said I wanted to explain this point before. There are exemptions. Formula One
is in a particular position. Why? Because it's a uniquely global sport and
because you have a limited number of Grand Prises. There are, I think nine or
ten in Europe, there are other Grand Prix in other parts of the world. Every
single country that has a Grand Prix, either has no advertising or sponsorship
restriction on Formula One, or makes special arrangements for Formula One.
Every single one. That's why when people say..I mean one of the mists of the
past couple of weeks, has been when people have said: well it's such an
extraordinary decision, so we must have taken it for a bad reason. It's not
extraordinary at all. What would be extraordinary is if Britain, the home of
Formula One, wasn't listening to arguments that were being listened to by
Germany, by Australia, by Canada, by France, by Italy, by all these other
countries with Grand Prix.
Now, however. So, the Grand Prix-the
Formula One is in a particular situation. It is particularly dependant on
tobacco sponsorship and what would be ridiculous is if we lost the Grand Prix
to Asian countries and there are ten applications from Asian countries
outstanding, all of them have said they will allow Formula One to be screened
without any restrictions at all. They would then be shown back in this
HUMPHRYS: I take that point. We've got that.
BLAIR: Now, we do however want to make sure
that we ban tobacco advertising sponsorship. That's been our goal all the way
through. The reason we went for an exemption was because a derogation of a
longer period of time, say with a review clause, was never on offer.
HUMPHRYS: Kind of exemption yeah.
BLAIR: That was never on offer. Now, of course
we're in a position where we want to see the European Union directive go
HUMPHRY: Right, so can I?
BLAIR: We will negotiate about it but my bottom
line is I am not negotiating anything unless I am sure that Formula One have
got the time to adjust and the ability to do that.
HUMPHRYS: Alright. So can I clear this up because
people might be confused by talk of derogation...? In other words if they say
in Europe: Alright we will give them let us say ten years to sort things out,
to find some other form of money so that they can carry on doing what they're
doing. Would you then say, alright we will have the ban, we will agree to a ban
after that ten year period? Is that what you're saying?
BLAIR: No, I'm not going to start negotiating
the thing now.
HUMPHRYS: Well eight years. But I mean is that the
theory that you're-the principle?
BLAIR: The theory is that we will do as- go as
far as we can in banning sponsorship provided it doesn't wreck the industry.
That's the theory. Now, it could be done in a number of different ways.
BLAIR: And actually, the exemption, that's why
I say to you there are a whole series of things that were under discussion as
HUMPHRYS: Right. Okay. You've been in power for
six months and a bit now and you've had a quite extraordinary period in Office.
I mean you have been the most popular Prime Minister since ever. Now the
papers are saying that the issue surrounding you is one of trust. Do you
believe that as a result of what has happened in this past week or so you have
lost the trust of the British people?
BLAIR: No, I don't believe that. And I hope
that people know me well enough and realise the type of person I am, to realise
that I would never do anything either to harm the country or anything
improper. I never have. I think most people who have dealt with me, think I'm
a pretty straight sort of guy and I am. And I think that, what I would say to
you about that and I do find it, these things difficult and upsetting, is I
think there's been a desire to say - right from the word go - this can't be as
good as it looks. You know, they're all the same. The Tories were sleazy,
Labour's no different. I don't believe we're like that at all. Before the
Election I set out what I call a sort of ten-point contract with the people and
remember I know why people elected me. They didn't elect me because of Formula
One or tobacco sponsorship. They elected me because they wanted their schools
and hospitals improved. They wanted their society brought together, young
people given a chance, the crime tackled on our streets, and the jobs and
industry built for the future. And they wanted this country to feel proud of
Now, I set out before the Election what
I called a ten-point contract with the people. I will fulfil, John, every one
of those ten points and I will be held to account if I don't. And you know
some of this rubbish about sort of U-turns and all the rest of it, sort of
things like foxhunting. I know why I'm elected, I know what people expect of
me, I know what I can do for this country. I can-I believe and you know you
can say this is arrogant but I believe that I can put this country on a path to
the Twenty-first Century that makes it one of the great nations of the modern
world. And I will do it by keeping the promises that I kept. Now I'm sorry
about this issue. I should have realised it was going to blow up into this type
of importance before, but I have honestly done what I thought was best for the
country all the way through. I'll carry on doing that and in the end I have to
stand at the bar of British public opinion at the next Election. And I will do
so, not just with a clean conscience but I will do so if I've got anything to
do with it at all, having delivered and kept every single promise I made.
Because I said I would deliver something different and I can do it. I can do
HUMPHRYS: But you've been tarnished.
BLAIR: I don't believe I've been tarnished -
no. I think that mistakes have been made but I think in the end the country's
got to look at me. It's got to in a sense, got to decide whether the person
that they believed in is the same person they've got now and it is.
HUMPHRYS: Prime Minister, thank you very much
BLAIR: Thank you.