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Breakfast with Frost Sunday, 23 June, 2002, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Interview with Peter Hain MP, Europe minister
Peter Hain MP, Europe minister
Peter Hain MP, Europe minister
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: PETER HAIN MP EUROPE MINISTER JUNE 23RD, 2002

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

DAVID FROST: European Union leaders have ended their summit in Seville with agreement on a common policy to fight illegal immigration. Member states will carry out joint border controls and will be assessing asylum claims using the same procedures. But plans to penalise countries that refuse to take back asylum seekers have been watered down and I'm joined in the studio now by the Europe Minister Peter Hain who's just returned from the summit in Seville. Peter, good to see you.

PETER HAIN: Morning David.

DAVID FROST: All the headlines tell the same story, EU rejects Blair's line on asylum people by scuppering Tony Blair's plans to link aid to immigration and settling instead for an unsatisfactory compromise, they missed a golden opportunity. Tony Blair himself, is it a complete answer? No I'm not saying that. EU snubs Blair on asylum curb plan. Now we may have made some progress but obviously less than half of what we expected?

PETER HAIN: Well I was actually in the summit and I've got the conclusions in front of me and I don't think you'd want me to read them out but the truth is we've got exactly what we wanted, we've got position...

DAVID FROST: You don't, you're not one of these, that's a Stephen Byers form of answer, I mean the, the, I mean when, when...

PETER HAIN: Sir David what do we want out of the summit?

DAVID FROST: Just a sentence, there's nothing in those documents that say we should benchmark the performance of third countries and be willing to use the EU's economic and financial clout with those who are not cooperating?

PETER HAIN: Well paragraph 31 says we agreed that cooperation, association, reciprocal agreements with the European Union, the European community, the countries concerned should include a clause on joint management and migration flows. Now what this is about is that if an illegal migrant is returned from Europe to some of these countries then they ought to abide by their international obligations and accept them back. It's not a question, as was hyped up before the summit, of penalising poor countries or anything like that.

DAVID FROST: Hyped by Claire Short, she said that it was morally repugnant.

PETER HAIN: well of course.

DAVID FROST: She would have known what was going on, and there's nothing in there about using our financial and economic clout at all. Why not just admit, we got 50 per cent of what we wanted?

PETER HAIN: Look there are two points here, first of all when you're negotiating with 15 countries in which we're one obviously there's give and take. We came out with a position that said Europe is going to be very tough on human trafficking by criminal gangs of illegal migrants. We give genuine refugees fleeing political oppression sanctuary as Europe and Britain have always done to our honour, we continue to do that. But only one in ten of the people who seek asylum end up being assessed as genuine political refugees...

DAVID FROST: Yeah absolutely.

PETER HAIN: But in the case of those countries who, with whom we have a relationship providing aid and trade and lots of other political support they ought to accept their international obligations, that was agreed in Seville, I have the conclusions here and all the hype about penalising the poor sanctions and so on beforehand, that was never intended because it would be absurd to do it.

DAVID FROST: Well what was it, what was it that Claire Short was morally repugnated...?

PETER HAIN: Well I think she was asked a question, would it be morally repugnant to punish the poor and the answer to that is yes, of course it would be and it wouldn't work. But it's not what we wanted to achieve, what we wanted to achieve was those countries behaving in exactly the same way as we would if we had an illegal migrant deported from another country, a British citizen, we would accept them back, we expect them to do the same and that particular clause I've quoted to you about a partnership agreement involving management of migration flows, it sees precisely that.

DAVID FROST: Yes but at the same time you have Chirac says the French have been successful in persuading Spain and Britain to abandon their plans to improve, to impose economic sanctions, sanctions on those countries who would not accept returns...persuading us to abandon our plan to impose economic sanctions on those countries. You are not going to solve the problems by brandishing a sword especially a wooden one and, and the Swedish Prime Minister said a similar thing. He thinks the French were successful in persuading Britain to tone down its demands?

PETER HAIN: Well as I said...

DAVID FROST: And he was there too...

PETER HAIN: Indeed and he was speaking to his French audience as was the Prime Minister speaking to the Swedish press and they, they have their point of view. But in a sense what, that's not the point, what is the point is what do we get out of it, we got out of it an agreement by Europe to accept genuine political refugees, victims of tyranny, always done that. But to deal with this problem which we've not faced in Europe before on this scale, of gangs trafficking illegal migrants across the, across Europe, often ending up at the other side of the Channel Tunnel. We're very pleased that international obligations as they are for African and Caribbean countries, there's exactly the same agreements applies to them in respect of migration flows as well.

DAVID FROST: And we haven't really made a lot of progress on Sangatt have we really?

PETER HAIN: Oh this is going to be a matter that David Blunkett the Home Secretary will discuss with the French Interior Minister next week. We do need from the French government a much better and more effective way of handling this problem where illegal migrants break through the security and try and smuggle themselves onto the freight trains. Now the French government cooperated very well with us a year ago in respect of Eurostar because hundreds used to be coming through that route. Now only one or two end up smuggled through, so they worked well there, putting security around the station in Paris and so on, we want the same thing to happen around the other side of the Channel Tunnel because, David, what I think people want to see is a policy that's fair, victims of oppression being given sanctuary but firm in respect of illegal migration, that's the principle at stake.

DAVID FROST: That's it, but it seems to have come out more like an incentive to these countries rather than a sanction. However, enlargement, will enlargement go ahead on schedule, ie for January 2004, particularly if the, if the Irish vote went against the Nice Treaty?

PETER HAIN: It's terribly important for Europe's credibility that the reunification of Europe, the great prize of bringing our friends in Europe who were divided from us by the Nazis and then by the Cold War, the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Poles, Cyprus, other such countries, ten of them wanting to join, that that stays on track, negotiations concluded by the Copenhagen summit in December. Why? Because it'll extend Europe's zone of security, of democracy, of stability, those countries will get more prosperous, there'll be less pressure for migration from them, their borders will become more secure, Europe will become much more secure, there'll be great opportunities for extra trade and these are the benefits for enlargement.

DAVID FROST: Are you hopeful that in fact as you've hinted at once or twice, are you hopeful that the tests, the testing of the tests can take place earlier than next June?

PETER HAIN: This is in respect to the Euro?

DAVID FROST: Yes.

PETER HAIN: Well the policy hasn't changed, the Chancellor's going to make that economic assessment on the five tests, it's really important that we do this because the last time we went into the, into this kind of arrangement, the Exchange Rate Mechanism, which was like a dress rehearsal, a preparation for the Euro, the Tory government took us in on the Friday afternoon without proper plans, at the wrong rate of the pound and we had to come out in humiliation two years later. So this is a practical way of saying, look it's good to be good for Britain's stability, got to sustain our economic success as we're confident it could do if the economic assessment was, turned out that way. So it'll be made next June, I don't know whether...

DAVID FROST: But from your point of view do you hope that these tests are passed or would you be disappointed if they're not, or are you equally happen either way?

PETER HAIN: I hope the tests are rigorous because you will want to be sure, I will want to be sure, everybody in Britain will want to be sure, the economic assessment, if it's a yes to pave the way for a referendum, if it is but that is done in a serious hard-headed very responsible way, that it's good for the country's stability and to sustain that stability and increase our strength in a Euro rather than...

DAVID FROST: There's one new factor in the last month that people comment on which is, with this decline, enormous, precipitous decline in trust for the government, that's going to make it a bloody sight more difficult to get through a referendum successfully isn't it? Because you've got to say trust us and at the moment people don't trust you?

PETER HAIN: Well I think there are two points here, we have undoubtedly suffered from a lack of trust from the average voter and all the kind of spin and stuff that there's been going on, there's a, as has been acknowledged from the top of the government, there's a problem we have to resolve because actually we've got a very good record of success as a government on health and education and jobs, the lowest unemployment for a generation, people, and the economy is stronger than it's been since anybody can remember but we have, yes we do have a trust problem and if we called a referendum clearly we would have to deal with that.

DAVID FROST: Peter thank you very much indeed.

PETER HAIN: Thank you.

DAVID FROST: We'll just get an update on the news, the news headlines from Sian, Sian Williams.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST: And the next Breakfast with Frost will be at the same time next Sunday, our huge thanks to Peter Hain, thank you very much indeed Peter. And to all of our splendid guests this morning, we thank them all, we thank you for joining us, top of the morning, good morning.

END

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