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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 June, 2004, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
EU Constitution
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB:This transcript was typed from a 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.

On Politics Show, Sunday 20 June, 2004, Jeremy Vine interviewed:

  • Jonathan Evans MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament

  • Rt Hon Andrew Smith MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Interview with: Jonathan Evans MEP, Leader of Conservative MEPs

Jonathan Evans MEP
Jonathan Evans MEP, Leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament

Jeremy Vine: Well, let's speak first to the Conservative Leader in the European Parliament, Jonathan Evans. Welcome to you. Jonathan Evans: Thank you.

Jeremy Vine: Dangerous for your party we're hearing, this Constitution because you have to start talking about Europe which you hate doing.

Jonathan Evans: Well if we - if we talk about the Constitution, we'll be very pleased to do that because it's very clear that what two thirds to three quarters of the people in Britain are against this Constitution.

We've heard enough about the Constitution already to know the dangers that it poses to the United Kingdom and I think I must say it's a great missed opportunity for Tony Blair. We think that Europe does need reform but it doesn't need to see the continuation of this centralised European project which, in fact, this Constitution represents.

Jeremy Vine: And yet we know when Europe comes up as an issue in your party, people inside the Conservatives tend to disagree, don't they? Jonathan Evans: But at the same time the issue the issue of the Constitution has been a great unifying factor in the conservative Party.

We ran a very unified campaign to demand that there should be a referendum, in fact, the Conservatives in the European Parliament took the lead in that. We've campaigned on it for a year and all people, of all spectrums of opinion on Europe, from Europhile to Eurosceptic have been debating together and campaigning together.

Jeremy Vine: (interjects) ... this is different. You're having a referendum you now need to say as a party, no, don't you.

Jonathan Evans: And I think that we are going to say that.

Jeremy Vine: Michael Heseltine ...

Jonathan Evans: I feel very, very - feel very..

Jeremy Vine: Kenneth Clarke

Jonathan Evans: Well, there will be - there will be some people who will wish to exercise their freedom to give an alternative view but I think that they will be small in numbers.

Most certainly I find from my dealings, not only with my own colleagues in the European Parliament but across the spectrum of the Conservative Party, we all recognise that this is not the sort of Europe we want. We want the sort of Europe that is being promoted by Michael Howard a live-and-let-live Europe, a Europe where we have twenty five states but which, at the same time, recognises that we have to operate in a much more flexible way. Jeremy Vine: How do you get back those people who voted for the UK Independence Party whose MEP, Robert Kilroy-Silk says he's going to - to the European Parliament to wreck it.

Jonathan Evans: Well, it's a miracle if he'll turn up there because I think during the course of the campaign he was indicating that he intended to spend very little time there. It now appears that he recognises that if he doesn't vote, he doesn't get his allowances.

Jeremy Vine: He got a lot of support didn't he?

Jonathan Evans: I think we recognise that. And we recognise as well, that, during the course of the European Elections, people were voicing their concern about the direction in Europe and that's something that the Conservative Party have been in the forefront of - of representing, I think that it is - it is a great opportunity for us with this referendum to be able to demonstrate what our alternative vision is, and what I would say is, why do we need to wait two years for it?

For goodness sake, we're told by Tony Blair that we need to have the Constitution because Europe can't operate in some way with twenty five without it, when yet he says now we can wait two years. We would say let's bring on the referendum, let's have it now.

Jeremy Vine: But one of the points that people make is that Countries coming in, like Poland are very fiercely protective of their sovereignty, in some ways they're close to your way of thinking and yet you're trying to strike out the Constitution as the umbrella under which they're coming in!

Jonathan Evans: I don't think that there is any conflict in our approach and the approach that's taken by a number of those parties who have been elected from the new member states of the European Union.

In fact, very many of those parties have had close relations with the Conservative Party over very, very many years and I can say that I expect those close links to develop still further in the years ahead.

Interview with: Andrew Smith, MP. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Rt Hon Andrew Smith MP
Rt Hon Andrew Smith MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Jeremy Vine: And also joining me on behalf of the Government now is Work and Pensions Secretary, Andrew Smith. Good afternoon to you.

Andrew Smith: Good afternoon.

Jeremy Vine: Let's start with that business of timing. Mr Evans would say, 'why on earth would we have to wait two years for this referendum'?

Andrew Smith: Well, of course, there's got to be a process of scrutiny by parliament and it doesn't have - actually have to be ratified until the end of 2006 but I think what Jonathan Evans' argument betrays is the fact that the Conservatives don't actually want this subject to full national debate and scrutiny and I'm absolutely confident that as people see what's been achieved for Britain and for Europe through this Constitution, safeguarding key areas of national interest like tax, defence, foreign policy, immigration; giving more say to national parliaments, that people will endorse this. And he - Jonathan Evans was, again, propagating the myths. He talks about centralisation, actually what's been achieved here is a rejection of centralisation, a rejection of federalism and, instead, embracing enlargement and reform and that's the common sense way forward in Europe..

Jeremy Vine: (interjects)

Andrew Smith: ..which I believe the British people will support.

Jeremy Vine: When we hear you and your colleagues saying why this Constitution is so good, it's always in terms of negatives isn't it? You say it's not this and it's not that and it's not the other. What's so wonderful about it?

Andrew Smith: I don't think you were listening to what I said then; I said it gives national parliaments more say.

Jeremy Vine: That's a negative isn't it?

Andrew Smith: It - it gives - it gives us a streamlined way of taking decisions, it safeguards areas of national interest and it does mean a Europe of nation states working together and it's not just the British Government that's saying that, commentators right across Europe, Figaro, leading French newspaper, said that this seals the victory of nation states over the idea of a European superstate but I tell you something else that's going to be crucial as this debate goes forward and it's this: We're convinced Britain needs to have a strong voice at the heart of Europe, the conservative position is walking towards the door marked 'Exit', that would threaten incalculable damage to our economic interest.

There's three million jobs that indirectly or directly depend on Europe and the economic success which Britain is seeing within the European Union, although in the UK ...

Jeremy Vine: (interjects) ..sorry. Most - most people in the European elections disagree with your position don't they? Most people voted for Eurosceptic parties. Peter Hain said, on this programme a while back, 'if people don't like what they get they can vote against the government in the European elections later this year'. We had the election, they did vote against you and, still, you're bringing this thing back.

Andrew Smith: Well, I think there are a lot of myths out there as the Prime Minister was saying this morning and there was a very revealing poll in the Sunday Times this morning and what it showed was, yes, people do have concerns about defence and tax and foreign policy and immigration.

When they are assured that what we've achieved in this Constitution safeguards our position on all of those issues, then they were asked if those positions were safeguarded would you support the Constitution, and more said yes they would than said they wouldn't and that's the debate we're going to have and that that's the argument we're going to win with passion and conviction, putting the case that it's right for Britain to be in Europe, safeguarding our national interests and national sovereignty but cooperating with other countries for economic success.

Jeremy Vine: But I - I come back to this point of where your mandate is to negotiate this Constitution when you got such a poor vote; one voter in ten supported you in the European Elections.

Andrew Smith: That's as I say because, of course, when the European Elections took place we hadn't had the conclusion to these erm, negotiations, people couldn't see the outcome and our case is that as we have scrutiny and debate of what's been achieved here, safeguarding our national interest, a commonsense way forward for a Europe of nation states, not a European superstate, then I believe people will back us because they know that this is a commonsense way of advancing Britain's interest with our European neighbours, in a competitive global economy.

Jeremy Vine: Can I ask you what your answer is to Robert Kilroy-Silk's point made this morning? He asked: 'Is the new Constitution going to create a single new school hospital?'

Andrew Smith: Erm, yes it will because making a success of Europe entrenches the economic success which Britain is enjoying with so much of our trade, so many jobs depending on Europe, that's how we generate the wealth which pays for schools and hospitals and building a decent society in this country, and to pull out of the European Union would put all of that at risk.

Jeremy Vine: Alright. I'll put another question to you from somebody else who talked about it this morning, Digby Jones, head of the CBI, who asked: 'What does this do to increase Britain's competitiveness against other European countries?'

Andrew Smith: What it does is gives us a very strong voice in putting forward the case for a flexible economy in Europe which is why I find other European leaders from the new accession states certainly but also from France and Germany, coming to Britain to learn from the success we've got with Job Centre Plus and The New Deal, to have the highest rates of employment in the industrialised countries and the lowest rate of unemployment and, what this Constitution does is ensures that we, with our European neighbours, can have a successful, flexible, competitive economy which leads us towards full employment and that's what the British people want to see.

Jeremy Vine: Okay, Mr Smith, thank you.

Andrew Smith: Thank you.

Jeremy Vine: Before you go, one more question about a matter close to your department if you can. Can you confirm reports today that you're considering stopping firms having a mandatory retirement age?

Andrew Smith: What - what this about is that we have a lot of representations, think tanks, commentators, saying that we ought to raise the state pension age. We said no, we wouldn't raise the state pension age, that would be unfair. The question is how you enable people to choose to continue working longer if they want to. We've had extensive consultation and the government will be reaching a decision shortly.

Jeremy Vine: It sounds like this - that you have done from these reports, you've decided to tell firms not to make people retire at 60 or 65.

Andrew Smith: We- we haven't announced a decision on this yet. There's been extensive consultation. It is a matter of ensuring that employees can exercise their own choices, that we implement, as we're committed to, laws to erm, abolish age discrimination whilst at the same time enabling firms to operate sensible erm, personnel relations policies. So, as I say, we're still considering it..

Jeremy Vine (interjects) Okay.

Andrew Smith: ..we've consulted extensively, we're listening and we'll take a commonsense approach.

NB:This transcript was typed from a 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.

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