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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: MICHAEL ANCRAM, Shadow Foreign Secretary & Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party
NOVEMBER 18TH, 2001
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: I'm joined by the Shadow Foreign Secretary and Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, Michael Ancram, joining us now - Michael, g ood morning.
MICHAEL ANCRAM: Good morning.
DAVID FROST: The state of the relationship, as we were just talking about between Britain and America, could scarcely have ever been stronger than now, could it.
MICHAEL ANCRAM: I think it's remarkable how it grew after September the 11th. I think over the last few years there has been concern on this side of the Atlantic that somehow the relationship was weakening because America was looking more to Germany or France, but since September the 11th there's been a real feeling of shared grief and shared relationship and it has very much strengthened that special relationship which has for so long been the basis of our kinship with America.
DAVID FROST: And what do you feel about the stories today about whether the hundred troops we sent in were welcome or not and whether the next 4,000 should go or not and how long a commitment we should make?
MICHAEL ANCRAM: I think it's very careful that we have - very important - that we have clear objectives and the objectives must be, first of all, that we're not there as a peacekeeping force, we're there in order to enable certain things to happen. We are there to protect the bases that are going to be needed to be set up to get humanitarian aid flowing again and we're there to pursue the main objective and that is the apprehension of Osama Bin Laden and the destruction of al-Qaeda. But we mustn't get sucked into nation building or government building because that's something which we've learnt from past history simply doesn't work in Afghanistan.
DAVID FROST: What would we do exactly if, wonderful idea that, Osama Bin Laden was apprehended or indeed killed? What happens then to our policy in Afghanistan or in Syria or in Iraq? What happens at that point - does it all end or does it all end?
MICHAEL ANCRAM: Well as far as our interest in Afghanistan is concerned, it's very important that it doesn't end. I think one of your previous speakers was making the very valid point that when the Soviet Union was driven out of Afghanistan, the failure of the West was that we turned our backs on Afghanistan and that in a sense led to all the problems we've seen since. We must make sure this time, particularly in terms of humanitarian aid and financial support, that the West does play a full part in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. But the, as I said earlier, one of the key objectives of this whole campaign was the eradication of international terrorism. The way you do that is you cut off their bolt-hole so that there's nowhere that they can hide, and you cut off their sources of supply, both of money and of arms, and that has, that is going to be an ongoing operation. It's not just in Afghanistan, it's in various other parts of the world. We must show terrorists, wherever they are, that they're going to be hunted down, that they are going to find that there is no place that they can find shelter and that their resources are going to be cut off. That's the way, in the end, that you destroy international terrorism.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of unanimity of support, there's probably even more unanimity of support for this war among your backbenchers than among all Labour backbenchers.
MICHAEL ANCRAM: I think it was important in the early days of this particular campaign that we clearly stated our objectives. I said on a number of occasions in the House of Commons that it was important that we showed that the bombing wasn't just a random act and that it had a clear objective of removing the Taliban, because until the Taliban were removed then the introduction of sufficient humanitarian aid into Afghanistan was going to be impossible, the pursuit of Bin Laden was going to be more difficult, so we had to actually achieve that first and our backbenchers saw that very clearly.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of European solidarity, it's probably been better than you feared in advance, hasn't it?
MICHAEL ANCRAM: I think the interesting thing about the European side has been that because we still have a flexible Europe of nations, the sort of Europe that as Conservatives we've long wanted to see strengthened, rather than the integrated Europe, we've managed to have a very concerted response to this particular crisis. But if we had had an integrated Europe with a common defence policy and a common foreign policy, then I think we'd have seen a very different situation. Tony Blair would not have been able to operate in the way that he has very successfully done so, in building the international coalition because if you have a common foreign policy or common defence policy, in the end you always have to go to the lowest common denominator. We know from what we saw in Europe over the last four or five weeks that there were certain countries in Europe who were less than enthusiastic for what Tony Blair was doing.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of other issues, Gibraltar and Zimbabwe have both been occupying your mind, what do you want to see done, first of all in Zimbabwe?
MICHAEL ANCRAM: Well Zimbabwe, I think it's very important at the moment that we concentrate on the forthcoming elections. I want to see international observers there now because voter registration is taking place at this moment and I do believe that if the elections are fair, if the registration is fair now, if we can be absolutely certain that this election is carried out in a, in a fully democratic way then the chances of the overthrowing of the terrible regime of Mugabe are good indeed, and that's what we want to see happen. In Gibraltar - I'm going there tomorrow - I think there's a very different situation, I'm beginning to smell a stitch up on the part of the Government, I think they want to get rid of the Gibraltar problem, and I'm going first of all to hear what the people in Gibraltar have to say about their future and particularly in relation to sovereignty, and secondly to show them that as far as the Conservative Party are concerned we still stand very firmly by our stated view that the sovereignty of Gibraltar cannot be changed without the consent of the people of Gibraltar themselves - freely and democratically expressed.
DAVID FROST: Do you expect to see, would you wish to see, A or B, in fact a referendum on the subject of Europe in this parliament? Would you like to see that, would you call for that?
MICHAEL ANCRAM: A referendum on the euro or on Europe?
DAVID FROST: On the euro.
MICHAEL ANCRAM: On the euro, I think obviously the Government are now in the driving seat on that, I think we will probably see a referendum on it and needs to make it clear that when that comes we will, within our party, oppose the scrapping of the pound and the introduction of the euro - although we've made it clear that in our party, again, there may be others who take a different view and they'll be able to campaign for their view. So far as Europe is concerned and the future shape of Europe, there's a lot of work to be done before the IGC in 2004 and we'll be working very hard to try and establish the benefits of the flexible Europe of nations, which has always been the Conservative view of Europe, and which I think over these last five weeks has proved its value.
DAVID FROST: What about, Michael, the fact that there are a number of issues on which the Government are vulnerable at the moment - one we were talking about with Sir Alistair Morton earlier on, Railtrack and Stephen Byers - the NHS is not right yet, well obviously that will take time, but student grants, there's a u-turn, Scotland and the Labour leadership there, possible tax rises, there's plenty for the Conservatives to be going for at the moment but you don't seem to be able to find a way of laying a glove on them.
MICHAEL ANCRAM: I think in the early days after September the 11th it would have been wrong if we'd carried on with party politics as if nothing had happened and there was obviously going to be a period when party politics themselves were going to be restrained, but I think we're moving out of that period now. We are beginning to make very clear our dismay at what has happened with Railtrack - not just because of its effect on our railways and our transport, but because of the contempt which Stephen Byers showed for the shareholders - private shareholders, a lot of them small shareholders, some of them pension funds where people's pensions are at stake - and in a government which is increasingly saying it's going to look to the private sector to help finance the public services, they're not going to find many people who want to put their money in if they're treated with that degree of contempt. So I think there really is a very serious problem which Stephen Byers has created, and not just in his own area but across the whole area of public services. Now so far as the health service and education are concerned, we will be pointing out that this was the government that told us that it was going to deliver on these services - they're actually getting worse at the moment. We've made clear ourselves that in establishing our own policies, we're going to go and look at how other countries do it better than we do it and learn from them. And I think that's the right way forward and it's certainly what we'll be doing over the months ahead.
DAVID FROST: Michael thank you very much indeed for joining us.
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