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Breakfast with Frost
Chris Patten, EU commissioner
Chris Patten, EU commissioner

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

DAVID FROST: And now I'm joined by the one and only Chris Patten - good morning Chris.

CHRIS PATTEN: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: Just starting with Iraq there, before going on, if you'd been in the House of Commons would you, would you have voted with Ann Clywd this week, or would you have voted with your old mate Ken Clarke?

CHRIS PATTEN: I'd have been torn. I think on balance I'd have probably voted with Ann Clywd but I'd have been, I'd have been very concerned about sustaining the authority of the UN. I'd have been very worried about acting without the UN. I would have been as concerned as everyone was - Ken Clarke included - about the disarmament of Saddam Hussein, but I would have certainly, if I'd spoken, have wanted to raise some questions about what happens after a war, if there is one. Because I think we need to remember that, as John Major said when he was talking to you last week, they didn't - nobody in 1991 wanted to go beyond the Security Council resolution, but there was also a great deal of worry, a great deal of concern about what would happen if we took charge of Baghdad, if we were responsible for Iraq. And it's that post-war situation which I think causes everybody a certain amount of nervousness.

DAVID FROST: In the interview just now with Dominique De Villepin, one of the things - I want your reflections on the things he said about Europe obviously - but one of the things he kept saying was we are friends and we are family with the United States. But that's not the feeling I think in - you were just in Washington - you didn't hear many people come up and say our friends in the family France.

CHRIS PATTEN: Well it depends who you talk to. I mean one of the problems at the moment is this very worrying crisis involving weapons of mass destruction and as he said, as M. De Villepin said, we'll face similar problems in the future. And one of the problems in dealing with it in Iraq is it's producing a huge amount of collateral damage. People have in the past denounced megaphone diplomacy. The problem isn't the megaphone, the problem is some of the voices we're hearing. You don't hear from Colin Powell some of the things that you hear from say Richard Pearle who's not actually a member of the administration, but you can hardly turn on a radio or television programme without hearing the ubiquitous Mr Pearle, and there are probably European voices which grate on American ears. So I do think we need to be very, very careful, if we don't agree in the Security Council, that we don't do a tremendous amount of damage - not just to the UN but to the transatlantic relationship, which is crucial to our wellbeing, our security and our prosperity.

DAVID FROST: Because one of the things that came up when I was talking to the foreign secretary was this thing about the two sorts of Europe that are emerging. That on the one hand you've got a sort of Atlantic Europe, with five countries including Britain, plus all the new countries from the Eastern Europe, and you've got a sort of Brussels Europe, or European Europe, which is sort of France, Germany and Belgium and so on. There does seem to be a, a separating of the ways there, doesn't there?

CHRIS PATTEN: I don't think the division of Europe into old and new, into Atlantic or, or Brussels-minded, is sensible or helpful. Indeed I think the way the whole enlargement debate has been dragged into this issue with Iraq has been very damaging. When countries make a choice to join the European Union it is not a choice to be anti-American. But it is a choice about their own identity and about signing up to a European view on the world - whether it's the Kyoto protocol or whether it's the international criminal court or whether it's a commitment to working through the UN and through multilateral institutions whenever possible. I think everybody who got involved in that debate with the candidate countries did a lot of damage to them.

DAVID FROST: And at the same time, what might the United States do if the situation of the feelings of a lot of the people in Washington is reflected? Could you see the possibility of their having a tariff war with France, a trade war with France?

CHRIS PATTEN: No I think -

DAVID FROST: Cutting off relations with France?

CHRIS PATTEN: No. I think that sensible people in Washington, and there are a lot of sensible people in Washington, recognise that they need Europe just as Europe, perhaps rather more, needs the United States. And I think everybody is very, very keen to try to ensure that the fall out from this row is controlled as much as possible. And after all, I think you have to recognise that throughout Europe - again it was a point made by Dominique De Villepin - there are differences between governments but by and large public opinion is pretty solid across Europe, and it is critical of any approach to this problem which doesn't involve going through the UN. And I think that is a really key issue for many people - it's certainly a key issue for me.

DAVID FROST: And you don't think, as I was saying to the Prime Minister, that we'd be better off in Nafta?

CHRIS PATTEN: Well I think it's a completely potty idea. In so far as anybody's done any economic calculation, it demonstrates that we certainly wouldn't be better off in Nafta.

DAVID FROST: What about the French veto? I mean he's been saying, as we said there, been saying that they want to keep their options open, but he's said very clearly that they will oppose the second resolution. Would they dare to veto the United States?

CHRIS PATTEN: They might do, they haven't actually used their veto, I think, since 1956 -

DAVID FROST: And that was over Suez.

CHRIS PATTEN: Yes. They haven't used it since then, but whether or not they and the Russians and the Chinese will vote eventually, depending I guess on Dr Blix and other's reports, for a resolution, or whether they'll vote against but not veto, I don't know. I would suspect that if they don't agree to the resolution they'll vote against rather than veto.

DAVID FROST: Really. Vote against but not veto. Or abstain? Abstain?

CHRIS PATTEN: Or possibly abstain. That's another option available to them. What is, I think, in everybody's interests is that at the end of this we should be in a position in which we can not only rebuild the relationship across the Atlantic, we can not only stand solidly firm for the UN, but that we can also try to work together to ensure that the fall out from a conflict in Iraq isn't bad for the whole region. I think it's particularly important that we work much more proactively together to deal with the tragic situation in Palestine and Israel. Because if after a war in Iraq, which pray God is over quickly, if after a war in Iraq there are still Palestinian kids throwing tanks at Israeli - Palestinian kids throwing stones at Israeli tanks - then I think we're going to be in a very serious position with Islamic opinion.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of conflict in this country, you said some very funny remarks about enough to make a strong man weep and so on about the state of the Conservative Party, but did you ever believe that it could get as bad as it has. I mean I'm reminded of Alan Clark's remark just after John Major's defeat when he said "I fear it's going to get worse before it's going to get better." Well that was almost an understatement.

CHRIS PATTEN: I think it's very depressing that, at a time when the government were looking very much on the back foot and in difficulties on a number of issues, the Conservative Party got embroiled in a row about politicians that nobody knows very much about, dealing with the future of officials that nobody knew about at all. I think it was a very unfortunate episode. John Major was saying last week, everybody who cares about the future of the Conservative Party says the same thing, that the Conservative Party has got to stop digging and making the hole even deeper. People have got to work together and try to find - which they haven't done so far - try to find a tone of voice which attracts the electorate.

DAVID FROST: Why don't they find that though? I mean how can they become at peace with themselves, because we had the two - you - you as chairman would never have stood for two of your people being fired without you even being told, much less consulted. That was one thing. And then there was these 12 targeted MPs and then that had to be withdrawn. Why the high level of vitriol now when, as you say, the logical concentration would be on the government's problems?

CHRIS PATTEN: I fear that there are some in the Conservative Party who've become more interested in who's up, who's down in the Conservative Party rather than whether the Conservative Party is ready and able to govern the country. And I think it's much more important to consider that issue than this sort of endless tribal warfare within the party.

DAVID FROST: Do you think you've met the next Tory prime minister?

CHRIS PATTEN: I hope I've met the next Tory prime minister, yes. And I hope there'll be a Tory prime minister after the election, but that will depend a great deal on the Conservative Party getting its act together at last.

DAVID FROST: It doesn't look ready to govern today, does it?

CHRIS PATTEN: It looks in a mess today today. There are some very attractive Conservative frontbench spokesmen - I mean I'm not in the House of Commons, haven't been there for ten years so I don't know these people very well, but there are some attractive figures and I hope that they're in a more prominent position in the next few months.

DAVID FROST: But you're getting back into the electoral business Chris, with the chancellorship, the vote, what March 14, 15?


DAVID FROST: The chancellorship of Oxford University.

CHRIS PATTEN: My last election.

DAVID FROST: Your last election - because it's a job for life if you get elected.

CHRIS PATTEN: Well I'm not sure that it should be regarded as similar to the selection of the Dali Lama or the Pope - a job for life. I would want to do it if I win, which I hope I do, because I would like to be a champion for Oxford at a time when Oxford is facing a lot of big challenges, not least from the American universities. I'd like to say to people look, I'll do it as long as I have the energy to do it and when I don't feel I can put as much into it as you like, then I would want to step down. But I think, I think it's, it may have been right in the past but I don't think it makes very much sense these days to do it forever.

DAVID FROST: And Lord Bingham is battling away against you ... and in fact I gather from his website that he's now Tom Bingham, a man of the people and so on. You're already Chris rather than Christopher so maybe you could invent a nickname.

CHRIS PATTEN: Christopher! As my mother and Enoch Powell used to call me. Yes, I mean we haven't, I haven't got a PR firm, I've got some very good friends in Oxford, some good professors and some people I much admire who are working for me. Look, whoever wins will want to do their best for Oxford and Lord Bingham and Lord Neil have got great records of service to Oxford already. It's said of me that I'm too young at 58. Well I hope I'd have a decade or so during which I could put my shoulder to the wheel and do as good a job as possible, at a time when Oxford and Cambridge and other universities are facing huge challenges from America.

DAVID FROST: Do you in fact have a vote as well? Do the candidates have a vote?


DAVID FROST: Are you going to vote for Patten?

CHRIS PATTEN: I'm afraid that I've always managed to put humility to the sword on these occasions and vote for myself.

DAVID FROST: Excellent, there we are. Let's go over to Moira. [NEWS]

DAVID FROST: Well we're at the end of our time. When you said attractive figures coming forward, you hoped, in the Tory party, did that include your old friend Ken Clarke?

CHRIS PATTEN: Ken Clarke is a very attractive figure. He has the great advantage in politics of being actually popular with people who aren't just hard-line members of his own party.

DAVID FROST: His problem is with his own party.

CHRIS PATTEN: The trouble is, as the Conservative Party base narrows, as fewer people identify themselves as Conservative, it's tended to move to the right, so it's been more difficult for a moderate to get elected.

DAVID FROST: Chris thank you very much indeed.


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