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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST HOSTED BY PETER SISSONS INTERVIEW: TONY BLAIR Interviewed by ANDREW MARR JULY 22ND, 2001
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
PETER SISSONS: Well the presidents and prime ministers will be climbing onboard their executive jets, the protestors will be leaving more humbly, one presumes, and by tonight Genoa will return to some semblance of normality. But what are the lessons, our political editor Andrew Marr is there and he's been talking to the Prime Minister this morning. Good morning Andrew. Andrew good morning, it looks a good morning except he can't hear us. Well we have an interview which Andrew Marr did earlier with Tony Blair and here is the guts of it.
TONY BLAIR: Whatever the focus on the news and the protests the achievements are big steps forward on the financial system for the world, on global trade, on climate change and above all the agreement of a plan for Africa that gives us the best opportunity, literally for generations of giving Africa the hope and the opportunity that it needs for the future and I think that will be the lasting legacy of the summit.
ANDREW MARR: Now tell us a bit more about Africa because I remember you, before the election saying that one of the things people didn't, wouldn't expect about a second Blair administration was the concentration on Africa. We don't normally talk about Africa at events like this, what is so important about this initiative and what would it actually mean for people in some of these countries?
TONY BLAIR: Well Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world, I mean if you just think that in the past few years something like three million people have died in central Africa alone either through starvation or conflict. Two and a half million people died of Aids last year in Africa, you've got countries where people are living way below subsistence level, population levels are increasing and yet life expectancy is low. What we've actually done is not just the specifics on the global health fund which is round about $1.8 billion now, to be, put through to the various countries in Africa in order to deal with killer diseases like Aids and malaria and so on, but also I think the most important thing is a specific process now between the G8 and the African leaders who we met here so that we deal with each and every one of the major issues confronting Africa. That is debt, trade, aid, investment, conflict resolutions, the problems of healthcare and education.
ANDREW MARR: So this is a big moral cause, one of the people that you had in your plane as you came out was Bob Geldof and Bono has also been here, what about the debt issue because the Drop the Debt people who are pleased with the African initiative also say that there's an awful lot still to do on the debt question, that of the countries that have passed the tests, as it were, a majority are still spending more, for instance, on their debt than they are on their health budget?
TONY BLAIR: Well now around about 23 countries have gone through the various stages and are getting debt relief and that will amount to around about $53 billion, so it's quite a considerable programme. But the debt campaigners are right to say we've got to go far further, we can do that within the context of this Africa plan and they're also right to say that there are many countries that haven't yet qualified but one of the main reasons for that is round about ten of them, or slightly more than that actually, are still locked in various conflicts and we can't put money in whilst, you know that money is simply going to be spent on purchasing arms and waging war. So we've got to get those countries out of conflict before we can get them through the process that gives them the debt relief and allows them to start rebuilding their, their country.
ANDREW MARR: Now one of the things that people are saying, huge disruption to this part of Italy, never mind this city, caused by this event, is it really so important to get the eight of you face-to-face round the table, can these things be done by telephone, fax and so on, what makes the difference, you know¿
TONY BLAIR: What makes the difference and I, before I became Prime Minister I probably wouldn't have had the experience of one of these summits or considered them that important, but I tell you why I believe very strongly indeed that it is important for world leaders to meet, because, you take just a couple of issues here which are very tricky. Missile defence, climate change, it allows people to come together in an informal way, get the measure of where each other is and where the different countries are on those types of really tricky questions and then see if you can find a way forward. You see out of this summit, with any luck, we will get an agreement that we now accept the objectives on climate change, can put together a process whereby we can resolve the differences between some of the countries openly and you know we then have an opportunity, as it were, to work together in order to, to get over the remaining hurdles that lie in our way. So, you know whether it's issues like missile defence or climate change or there are specific things on Africa, this Africa plan would never have arisen other than the fact we have the African leaders here, we then had a pretty heated discussion frankly, on both sides, about what we needed to do and then there came out of that the agreement, that okay we put together for the first time a proper process between the G8 and the African countries which would then lead to, to effectively what we want to get to, is a kind of plan for Africa, I mean that's what we're trying to do, you know it's a very, very big and ambitious thing.
ANDREW MARR: One of your officials said it was a glint in your eye, or it was an idea that you had a few days ago and now it's a reality, is that overdoing it?
TONY BLAIR: No I think that's just about right, I mean, of course there's a massive amount still to do on it because things like conflict resolution, how you get private investment in Africa, these are really, really, difficult questions. But we've locked ourselves now into a process that has got to yield a result and I think that's very important.
ANDREW MARR: And this wouldn't happen, and the Kyoto moves wouldn't have happened if you weren't physically all there, it really does work like that there's the chemistry and the eye-balling and you know eating croissant together, whatever?
TONY BLAIR: Leaders in the end are just people, I mean we're just people and we deal with each other the same that you, the way that you deal with your colleagues or, you know any of us deal with people at the workplace and if you get on together or you, you have, you can have at these types of summits a pretty frank discussion. So for example on climate change because you know there are negotiations going on in Bonn at the same time, I had a conversation with two of the leaders here, never mind who they were, which then allowed us to unblock some of the obstacles in the Bonn negotiation and I think we'll probably get further than we otherwise would. Now sure you can try and do it by email or telephone but it isn't the same, when you're sitting opposite someone talking to them and you know what people should realise, whatever the usual nonsense written about these summits, most of us either are in our room or in meetings, you know¿
ANDREW MARR: You're not swanning around, you're working, yeah?
TONY BLAIR: It's ridiculous, of course we, we, we are either, as I say, you're either in your room or you're actually out at meetings or in the meeting place itself and with the African leaders for example, for the first time ever they're face-to-face in a proper way with the leaders of the world who have the chance to make a difference to their country. So I think if you went and asked the leaders of South Africa or, or Mali or the other countries that were there and say, you know, do you think it's worth coming to these meetings and having this face-to-face contact.
ANDREW MARR: They'd say yes?
TONY BLAIR: Yes.
ANDREW MARR: And clearly the Drop the Debt people were not marching with the rest of them yesterday?
TONY BLAIR: No of course¿
ANDREW MARR: Even so what happened and, and the Anarchist attacks and so on, that does mean that we can't do it this way again doesn't it? We can't have another Genoa ever?
TONY BLAIR: Well it's a pity, I mean we did it in Birmingham a few years ago, it was a very successful for Birmingham, for the leaders.
ANDREW MARR: Something's changed though?
TONY BLAIR: Well what's changed is, and I think this is, this is a change in politics and I think we need to, to reflect on this very carefully because what people now know is if you have a cause and you put your point reasonably you will get limited coverage. If you have a cause and you commit an outrage you will lead the news. Now there's something in that that you've got to think about for the media, we've got to think about from the point of view of politicians and what then happens is that all issues, I mean we've actually had a discussion about an important issue today but most of the time I've been here the media have wanted to know about the riots, the protests, the tragedy of the man who got killed etc, but you know in the end then what gets displaced is what I would call¿yeah real politics.
ANDREW MARR: Prime Minister thank you very much.
TONY BLAIR: Thank you.
PETER SISSONS: Well let's see if we've sorted out the soundwaves from Genoa, Andrew can you hear me now?
ANDREW MARR: I can hear you, I'm sorry about that Peter it's, the too calm centre of the storm here.
PETER SISSONS: Now there, there we got Tony Blair a vigorous defence of this system of this kind of summit, where is no major rethink going on, are, is it because they've been so insulated from the protests they don't actually know what kind of scale they were on?
ANDREW MARR: I think they, well they've seen the same pictures that we've all seen, they haven't actually been out there of course, I think it's a mixture of squirming embarrassment, anger and frankly confusion about what to do because they don't want to be in the position of saying we're not going to do these summits ever again, that means the, the anarchists have won and they have surrendered and they do very much want to carry on and yet they clearly have to find somewhere better to do it. Now whether it's some rocky island off the Canadian coast or a skewer summit of a Canadian mountain I don't know and that's what they're talking about behind the scenes. Somehow they want to limit the enormous kind of media caravanserai that's arrived here and they want to make it somewhere that protestors can get to with somewhat more difficulty than they've arrived here. But to be honest, you know if there's a group of people who are determined to cause mayhem then there's almost nothing in an open democratic society that these guys can do to stop them.
PETER SISSONS: But if, they can't let this happen in Canada, can they Andrew? They've got to identify the hard core of international thugs and treat them as we would treat football hooligans, try to stop them from travelling?
ANDREW MARR: They've got to try to do that, it's going to be very difficult, it's incredibly important to distinguish between the vast majority of the people who are here to protest ranging from, you know, Italian Communist, environmentalists, greens, Drop the Debt campaigners, anti-Globalisation campaigners of all kinds, completely peaceful, quite angry, a serious political agenda taking on the G8 with a very small group of highly organised anarchists who appeared to most of the people watching to have very little political agenda at all, communicating, by the way, in English, quite a lot of British people there, quite a lot of Greeks, quite a lot of Germans amongst this so-called black block of anarchists. It's those people who've caused the trouble and not the tens of thousands of genuine protestors who are here as well and very angry about what's happened.
PETER SISSONS: Andrew Marr in Genoa thank you very much for talking to us.
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