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Breakfast with Frost Monday, 20 May, 2002, 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK
Euro 'number one' priority, says Clarke
Ken Clarke MP, former chancellor
Ken Clarke MP, former chancellor

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Well Tony Blair has said he would be proud to be remembered as the man who led Britain into the single currency and that's led to some expected criticism by the Conservative Party leadership but one Tory in particular must have been pleased, with perfect timing, his tradition on perfect timing the former Chancellor Ken Clarke has waded into the debate and set up the Tory European Network and Ken joins us now from Nottingham. Good morning Ken.

KEN CLARKE: Good morning David, now in Nottinghamshire to watch cricket this afternoon much buoyed up by seeing pictures of Garry Sobers playing for us a few years ago.

DAVID FROST: Yes absolutely, that was a great Nottinghamshire, Nottinghamshire moment and you are also speaking to us from an area that's apparently soon going to have an asylum centre in it?

KEN CLARKE: That's right, yes it's one of the nominated places which we're resisting because obviously people will say well we're just resisting it because it's in the middle of my constituency, but we're resisting it really because I think the idea of having these accommodation centres with six or seven hundred young men there for six months with nothing much to do in what, as far as they're concerned, is the back of nowhere, is going to cause a great deal of trouble. I think there should be smaller accommodation centres, I think they should be nearer places where there's something for the young people to do and we're about to have that argument, I'm glad to say at least Lord Rooker has agreed, he's going to go through a planning process and if we can beat him on appeal then no doubt he'll go back to the drawing board and he'll choose some more sensible sites.

DAVID FROST: Right, come on to your article launching the new Tory European Movement in the Times this Wednesday, did you talk to IDS, did you give him any hint you were about to do this or would it have come as a total surprise to us?

KEN CLARKE: No I didn't what we were doing, I had the one article in the Times, a lot of letters going out, we're refreshing the list of names we have in that the European Movement, the old all-party European Movement, as there might be a referendum next year we need to know how many people in the European Movement still regard themselves as Conservatives, how many Conservatives we can bring in to the European Movement and it was preparing to have a distinctive Conservative contribution to the Yes campaign if the referendum goes ahead next year which I personally think is probable. I didn't speak to Iain Duncan Smith, I only had the one article because by-and-large rather remarkably since he took over, Iain Duncan Smith and myself have had a, a kind of unspoken pact that neither of us will go on too much about the Euro, we'll try to get the Conservative Party to come, come back to reality and think about something else most of the time.

DAVID FROST: But, but in that sense of saying you'd shut up about the Euro and so on, or both parties would, I mean are you not breaking that unspoken pledge with this new moment?

KEN CLARKE: Well I think you'll notice that neither Iain Duncan Smith nor Michael Howard fail to mention it occasionally but it was the first European thing I'd done for a long time and Ian Taylor who is chairman of the European Movement and myself decided we'd got to at this stage to get to get together a network, literally a network of Conservatives who'd be put in touch with each other and prepare to organise if there's a referendum next year. But I didn't go all over the front pages and I only went for the Times because I had to go for a right-wing newspaper that Conservatives would read and the Times is a little less demented on the subject than the Daily Telegraph and I tried, we tried to do it in a reasonably low-key way and we're sending out leaflets, sending out letters to people we think are not only pro-European but also Conservative in order to get things together. And Iain and myself occasionally mention it, well the trouble is sections of the British press are obsessed with Europe so particularly as we saw in the middle of the week you've only got to mention the word Byers and the word Europe in the same little snippet and suddenly all over the front pages everybody goes bananas and the thing you'll probably notice, the Conservatives of both stripes...didn't take too much part in that which is quite good tactics from the point of view of our party I think.

DAVID FROST: And what, what's more important in the next three or four years would you say, joining the Euro or a Tory government?

KEN CLARKE: I think to join the Euro, to prepare the base for a Tory government in about 2005, 2006 in my opinion because I, I think if we can rid the Conservative Party of its neurosis on this subject and if we can provide a sound basis for Britain's role in the world and Britain's best economic prospects inside the single market, then the next Conservative government will be more successful. But I, I think the election when it comes in 2005, 2006 will be of course in a different political world to now. People will say Stephen Byers, who was he? It'll be a forgotten name, people will forget most of the crises, the European referendum will then be open and the issue would have been - over and the issue would have been decided one way or another and the issues in 2005 will be ones that are difficult to predict now. I actually think that the thing that's working most to undermine this present Labour government is the fact they're losing control of their economic policy...

DAVID FROST: But at the moment...

KEN CLARKE: Prudence has been abandoned...2005 you might find...

DAVID FROST: At the moment your priority though, at the moment your priority Ken is the Euro before the Tory government?

KEN CLARKE: No it's not, I don't think there's a choice, I think the Conservative Party has both views on Europe, the issue of the European referendum is not whether your Labour vote one way or your Conservative vote the other, Liberal vote that way. It is what is your vision of Britain in the modern world, how do you think we can be the most powerful and influential type of nation state, what is your vision of the future of the European Union and how do we contribute to it, what do you think the single market is bringing to us and do you think having one means of exchange, one currency will help us get more out of it? And those are the issues, the party politics will resume once that has been resolved and I don't think Tony knows at the moment whether he's going to hold the referendum next year or not but if he does it'll be quite an important event, quite an historic event which will provide the background against which the political parties will be scrapping for power on different issues by 2005.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of Gordon Brown, do you think he's an obstacle at the moment or do you agree with the Telegraph that he's now signalling support for Blair over the push for the Euro...


DAVID FROST: Is he a, is he a stumbling block or not?

KEN CLARKE: I think he's in favour of the single currency, I don't think his views are very different from mine and I don't disagree with him that the economic conditions have got to be right when you join and you've got to join on the right basis and a great deal of the reading of the runes is nonsense. I mean I know you're used to politicians coming on criticising British newspapers but they're not too difficult to criticise and the fact is real people I think don't follow the journalists in reading these nuances, you know the under-secretary-of-state for nuts and bolts has just said this and Gordon used a word in a different place last week and Tony appeared, body language appeared to be wrong when this was said. And suddenly you get screaming headlines about they're all plotting to hold referendum or they're all agreed not to have a referendum, I, I, I think an awful lot of politics sometimes should be taken at its face value. I think Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Charlie Kennedy, I, are all saying there will be a referendum next year and we will be asking people to join the single currency if the economic conditions have come right by then. And the fact that Gordon always looks a bit gloomy and scowls a bit when he says it doesn't necessarily mean that he's ever been on a particularly different wave length.

DAVID FROST: Ken thank you very much for joining us, it's always a pleasure, thank you. Ken Clarke there.


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