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Breakfast with Frost Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Interview with Lord Owen, former foreign secretary
Lord Owen, former foreign secretary
Lord Owen, former foreign secretary

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

DAVID FROST: The pound's fall against the Euro and the Chancellor's Mansion House speech have put the prospect of Britain joining the single currency into the headlines again. In his speech on Wednesday Gordon Brown told the audience of bankers that their tests are about economics not about politics.


DAVID FROST: Well there's speculation at the very fact that Gordon Brown did use his speech to talk about the Euro, meant the decision could be made soon. But some politicians are arguing it's not just the single currency we should be worried about but the whole structure of the European Union. The former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen is publishing a new document out tomorrow called the Separation of Powers in the EU, he fears that we're heading for a European super-state and that that issue is more important than the Euro or certainly should precede the Euro?

DAVID OWEN: It certainly should precede the Euro, I mean the fact that the Euros, 25 per cent of the public want it but 58 per cent don't and that hasn't changed much over the last ten years. But what has changed and what is very worrying, in fact rather sinister in some respects, is the pressure that's mounting now with this convention that is looking at the future of Europe and then followed by an inter-governmental conference for really sweeping reforms, I mean taking foreign policy and defence policy ultimately under the Commission, the Commission being in control of the boundaries of what had previously been Nation States with its own sort of police force and its own capacity to arrest, public order prosecutor, public order system for Europe - these are massive changes along with the wish to take away almost from the European Central Bank which controls the Euro and put economic policy into the Commission. Now a lot of this won't happen but the history of Europe is that unless you build up a formidable resistance to these sort of proposals well before it happens a part of it will happen and that's how they do it, they edge their way forward. So it's a very big challenge for Tony Blair over the next 18 months.

DAVID FROST: And what, what are you particularly concerned about then, defence or foreign police or economic policy?

DAVID OWEN: Well if you, if you no longer control your foreign policy, if you have qualified majority voting on foreign policy you cease to be a country, similarly on defence. I mean the one ultimate thing which we always maintained is that if we don't, can't go along with it having really tried then it's right to try in Europe, we have to reserve the ultimate right to say no. So qualified majority voting on foreign policy is quite unacceptable, putting it down to the Commission instead of under the inter-governmental European council is unacceptable and what you need to do is just separate these things out. We are not going to have a single state, we must stop it and we must effectively veto it if we have to and the most important thing to do is to say certain things have got to stay with the inter-governmental and that is foreign policy, defence policy and the key economic decisions and those issues which go to the very sensitive issues we're seeing about the immigration and asylum, the publi order, police issues, controlling your borders, for example, for Britain I think is an absolute.

DAVID FROST: What about tax?

DAVID OWEN: Well on tax there's pressure for some harmonisation, what is more worrying is the commission really would like to totally harmonise not just indirect taxes, VAT, but would like to take the grip on direct taxes and on benefit levels and there are people who think that if you're going to make a success of the Euro you need that degree of control. Now at the moment governments are resisting it but again you're seeing pressure from governments, some governments as well as the Commission to have an economic government for the Euro-zone. So this is the issue that's going to be behind the referendum, the government are trying to rush it through, to have a referendum before we realise the political implications but the political implications of managing the Euro in the very volatile situation we're in which George Soros mentioned means that you really need to have a measure of governmental control on some of the key parameters and that means are we going to be told by the Commission what are our public expenditure levels, what are our levels on welfare benefits, these are decisions between the left and the right of British politics, people will disagree but you won't be able to make those decisions by un-elected people.

DAVID FROST: And talking about left and right, everyone says that the No campaign should be led by someone without, with gravitas etc and without specific party affiliations, the No campaign should be chaired by such a person and a lot of people say that person ought to be you, would you consider it?

DAVID OWEN: No I don't...


DAVID OWEN: I won't, I think what is very important is that No represents everybody, not just politicians, I think politicians dominate too much, I think it's very important that the voice of business was against basically the Euro, the voice of the people of this country right across the spectrum, we have the Green Party involved with us, we have Labour Party people and MPs who are against it, we have Liberal Democrats - a rather smaller portion - and of course we have Conservatives. But what's more important is the broader public and that broad coalition we will maintain and we will fight a campaign as effective as was fought for devolution in Scotland which crossed the political divides, we will do the same, but I don't think it would be appropriate for it to be led by a politician. I will play my part...

DAVID FROST: I thought you said once you were a retired politician, a former politician?

DAVID OWEN: I'm both retired and former.

DAVID FROST: Who could lead it, if you're not going to lead it who should?

DAVID OWEN: It's amazing how...

DAVID FROST: Not a politician?

DAVID OWEN: I don't think it would be a politician, I don't think it, I think it will be led by somebody who is an inclusive figure, who has probably already gained knowledge of handling referendums and had done it, there's a broad balance of support behind this very, very committed wherever you go and see, whether you look at the City of London, whether you look at business, whether you look at manufacturing you see people today see this fluctuation of currencies, the pound has gone up against the dollar which is very helpful if you're in dollar-denominated business, we've gone down against the Euro, that has given us the flexibility to if you like put the see-saw up and down. If we were in the Euro we wouldn't have that flexibility, we would have to go with the Euro, Euros a new currency, I don't rule it out, what's the hurry? Tony Blair's got to make a decision in my view, take his time over this, why is he hurrying if he's trying to push it through, force it through and that's dangerous.

DAVID FROST: David thank you very much for being with us this morning, always a delight.


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