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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 June 2007, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Labour foreign policy
On Sunday 17 June Andrew Marr interviewed Margaret Beckett MP, Foreign Secretary

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Margaret Beckett MP
Margaret Beckett MP, Foreign Secretary

ANDREW MARR: Margaret Beckett joins me now. Let's pick up straight away on that Margaret Beckett.

Do you accept, as many people are saying this morning that the international community did get it wrong in failing to provide enough support for the now disappeared unity government?

MARGARET BECKETT: No I don't accept that. I mean I don't say everything we did was you know there were never any mistakes. But I don't accept that.

And as far as I have noticed most of the people are saying that are people who never agreed with the approach in the first place. They're people who always said that the international community should deal with Hamas and they're still saying it. That's not really very surprising.

There is one important thing which neither you nor I can yet know which I think I should pick up.

You said to Doctor Barghouti will a government of Fatah - what I'd heard is that this will be a government of independent people without necessarily any party affiliation. Now we don't know yet of course ..

ANDREW MARR: But that would presumably be a ..

MARGARET BECKETT: And we don't know if it will be a mixture ...

ANDREW MARR: That would be a good thing from your point of view. What, how as Foreign Secretary are you going to regard, deal with Gaza now it's under Hamas?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well it will be partly a matter of seeing how Gaza is going to approach everyone else. As you know the Arab League ministers who met yesterday, many of whom I've spoken to are very much of the view that they want to promote reconciliation and they want to go back to a position where people in the, from the different factions in Palestine are trying to work together for the good of all the people of Palestine. That will not be easy to achieve after the events of the last few days.

ANDREW MARR: We read, as I mentioned about the possibility of Israeli invasion of Gaza. Well what would your advice be?

MARGARET BECKETT: I think being in Gaza caused Israel problems before. That's why they left. But I mean I think to be honest that is newspaper speculation. I have heard and seen nothing as yet that suggests that that is what Israel is cont... contemplating.

ANDREW MARR: I mean they have done this kind of thing before as you say. Do you think it would be disastrous if they tried it again?

MARGARET BECKETT: I think it's too early to see how things will develop in Gaza.

ANDREW MARR: Let's turn to another part of the world that's in the news in a bad way this morning. Kabul. A huge suicide bomb it appears killed a very, very large number of people. And more and more reports that the war is no longer confined to the south but spreading up into parts of the rest of the country.

MARGARET BECKETT: I think it's a, it's a very different picture in Afghanistan. I mean there is considerable progress in most of the country, not only peace but reconstruction and development. Twelve per cent growth last year. Something like five times more children in education and about a third of them girls than was the case in two thousand and two.

So there is a lot of improvement and a lot of development and reconstruction. But of course against that you've got this element who only want to destroy. And picking up on some of the tactics of other people elsewhere who only want to destroy and that's the reason behind this bus bomb.

ANDREW MARR: The Red Cross who are unimpeachable in these matters say that coalition forces have been killing too many civilians, have been making things worse not better. And they say the war is spreading.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well certainly it is the case that there have been too many civilian casualties because always the coalition forces try to keep them to a minimum and will continue to do so. And sometimes that doesn't happen. It doesn't go as well as people had hoped. From the point of view of the war spreading I think I'd want to see exactly what the Red Cross mean by that.

Because certainly there is a, if you like a fight back going on in the south where as you know a big push has been made by NATO forces in order to establish the basis for a dam project which can bring electricity to something like two million people. Huge reconstruction project. And that does require military action to clear the way for it.

ANDREW MARR: Are we going to see British troops coming out of Iraq as they do and coming into Afghanistan to support the war in, war there?

MARGARET BECKETT: There isn't an automatic parallel. What we're seeing in Iraq, we've now handed over three of the four provinces that we, in which we were the lead. We're working towards handing over the other one as the Iraqi police and army are able to take over.

And that's a process that will continue. I don't think there's an automatic quid pro quo because they're, these are different, we've, we've got into, into a rather lazy habit of kind of lumping them together. These are very different ..

ANDREW MARR: They are very different. I understand that.

MARGARET BECKETT: .. countries.

ANDREW MARR: You know Gordon Brown well. Is there going to be any difference do you think in policy towards Iraq once the transition's happened?

MARGARET BECKETT: I think that Gordon Brown as prime minister, once the transition has happened, will want to re-assess the position, will want to talk with the government of Iraq about what they want for their future, what contribution we can make.

I don't think that necessarily is different from what would have happened. But it certainly, it will be in his hands to have those conversations and make those judgments.

ANDREW MARR: Well he's talked about a big economic push for Southern Iraq. Do you think we will at last begin to see the, the timetable for troop withdrawal when that happens?

MARGARET BECKETT: I think we'll always be very cautious about setting some artificial timetable. We've said all the way through ..

ANDREW MARR: Under Brown as under Blair.

MARGARET BECKETT: .. a date and so on. It's not militarily very sensible. But certainly we are moving very much in the direction. I think Gordon drew attention the other day to the fact there used to be something like forty thousand British troops in Iraq and now we're around the five thousand mark and heading down. So you know things are going in the direction people would want to see.

ANDREW MARR: Let's turn to the EU Treaty. Are there any circumstances in which Britain would accept a charter of fundamental rights?

MARGARET BECKETT: We have always had concerns about the impact of such a charter. And that's something that we have to discuss. It's one of the many issues that will have to be thrashed out ..

ANDREW MARR: So it's not a red line?

MARGARET BECKETT: .. this weekend and next weekend.

ANDREW MARR: It doesn't sound like it's a red line.

MARGARET BECKETT: We, we have got, we avoided the bases. I mean yes we have very clear concerns and among them are things like we would not accept being required to change for example our social and labour law. So there are a number of areas where we have considerable concerns.

But one of the things that is slightly, slightly nerve racking to be honest is that it, it is still far from clear what proposals the German presidency feels able to put. And it is also very clear that there are really quite strong differences of view still between different member states.

ANDREW MARR: What about majority voting? I mean the suggestion that Britain could lose about thirty per cent of its power to veto or block under the new voting system.

MARGARET BECKETT: I haven't seen that. Oh I think that's an exaggeration. I mean we judge - this is a mixture of if there was a change in the way votes are weighted .. ANDREW MARR: Yes.

MARGARET BECKETT: .. and if then there's a change in the threshold, that's an assessment made by people who want to believe everything is always for the worst.

Our assessment is we get more votes under the new system but the threshold changes, and on balance one probably knocks out the other and leaves us much where we were.

ANDREW MARR: And giving the, the community a legal entity, allowing the community as the community to enter into treaties and so on, this is something again has caused a great deal of controversy. What's a, what's your position on that?

MARGARET BECKETT: Our position on all of this is that we do not want to see a constitutional treaty or a treaty that has the characteristics of a constitution. We will look at anything that will if you like tidy up the rule book of the European Union now that we're twenty seven and not twelve or fifteen.

But we'll look at it on the basis of does this work for Britain. Is this in our national interest and will it make the European Union more effective as an operation. We're not interested in doing things for the sake of cosmetic change.

ANDREW MARR: A Downing Street official who's quoted I think in one of the papers today saying it's going to be diabolically difficult to get what we want out of this without having to come back with something that would require a referendum.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well I, I'm, I know somebody said that it would be diabolically difficult. Whether he said the second half of your sentence I'm not sure. I think it will be quite difficult because as I say I've now seen the report of the German presidency. And basically what it says is there are some who've ratified the treaty and they're happy about that.

And they don't want to have to go back to their voters and say well actually this isn't the treaty we've put before you before. And then there are people like the French and the Dutch who've had a referendum and people like us who say you can't ignore that. So you cannot just put .. ANDREW MARR: Yes.

MARGARET BECKETT: .. before the British people or the French people or the Dutch people the same treaty.

ANDREW MARR: And do you feel ..

MARGARET BECKETT: These are a long way apart.

ANDREW MARR: Sorry. And do you feel that we're much closer to the French since Sarkozy took over, that there's a certain amount of, that there's b..., either a deal to be done or, or, or at least they're closer to us on some of these issues than they would have been?

MARGARET BECKETT: Our, our relationship with the French has never been as black and white as sometimes it's painted. There are many occasions for example on policy in Africa. We've worked very closely and very effectively with the French under President Chirac. But the relationship was sometimes a little erratic shall I say.


MARGARET BECKETT: And certainly on the issue of the constitutional treaty President Sarkozy has made it plain that the people of France have rejected the treaty that was put forward. And the treaty, any treated that were to be put forward now has to be very different from the one that was there before.

ANDREW MARR: President Blair for Europe ...?

MARGARET BECKETT: Singularly unlikely. My ..


MARGARET BECKETT: .. understanding is that his view is he's leaving full time politics.

ANDREW MARR: And that would be full time politics. And could you accept an EU Foreign Minister?

MARGARET BECKETT: We certainly agree with cooperation, greater cooperation in the European Union on foreign policy.


MARGARET BECKETT: But we've also made it plain, we're keeping our independent foreign policy, our seat on the UN Security Council. We wouldn't accept putting that at risk.

ANDREW MARR: I must ask you about climate change after the recent summit. Because a lot of people, much better words they said from the Americans. But no detail, no numbers, no timescale. This is going to be another excuse to put things off.

MARGARET BECKETT: I, I always have a wry smile when I hear critics saying that. Because these are exactly the people who if they had tried to do a deal with numbers and specifics at the G8 would be saying this is not the right place. The G8 does not make these decisions. This is a matter for the United Nations, which it is.

I was talking a day or so ago to Elliot Morley who was my number two as Environment Minister and we were agreeing that if you'd said to either of us two years ago that we could get the kind of agreement out of Heiligendamm ... that we got on climate change neither of us would have been prepared to believe it. Because it's not so long ago that American negotiators walked out of meetings when people started to talk about negotiations in two thousand and eight, two thousand and nine, or indeed about something to follow the Kyoto protocol in twenty twelve.


MARGARET BECKETT: We've come a long way.

ANDREW MARR: So don't give up hope. Margaret Beckett can I thank you very much indeed for joining us.


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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