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Breakfast with Frost
Gordon Brown talking to David Frost
Interview with The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, on Sunday, 8 June, 2003.

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

DAVID FROST: Good morning Gordon.

GORDON BROWN: Good morning, how are you?

DAVID FROST: Very good to see you, very good to see you on the eve of a great speech. Do you get nervous before a great speech?

GORDON BROWN: I think everybody thinks how will people see it but it's doing the right thing by the country. This is, after all, the most rigorous and comprehensive assessment that the Treasury has ever done on an economic issue.

We've been desperate to avoid the mistakes that were made when Britain joined the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Right at the centre of it is, what is the national economic interest for the future, and that's why the five tests are important.

DAVID FROST: And we know you're attached to those five tests, umbilically.

GORDON BROWN: Umbilically.

DAVID FROST: But in fact when we were talking to Iain Duncan Smith about whether he was a never man, you have really made it clear between the lines, and in past statements, that you are very much a when man, not an if man. Is that right?

GORDON BROWN: Yes, in principle I, in principle I want to join the single currency, in practical terms we've got to be sure that all the conditions are in the right place. We don't make the mistakes of the ERM era. What surprised me about Iain Duncan Smith, really did surprise me, was he seemed to making the case for the Conservative Party leaving Europe altogether.

And I believe it's time to put the pro-European case, indeed Tony Blair and I have decided, and the Cabinet agreed on Thursday, that after the statement tomorrow we should put the pro-European case - we've got to sweep aside these anti-European prejudices that Iain Duncan Smith was putting forward, the idea somehow that you've got to choose between Europe and America is quite ridiculous. Europe must be working with America.

The idea that Europe will never reform is ridiculous. The idea that we sell out our national economic interest every time we go to Brussels, that he's putting forward, is ridiculous. We make the decisions - for example, against tax harmonisation - in the national economic interest, and I believe we can unite the British people - we never properly did that, you know, in the last 30 years - we can unite the British people around a pro-European consensus, which I believe is vital for the future of this country.

DAVID FROST: How do you, in the current circumstances, and what's likely to happen this week, how do you retain the faith of all those euro enthusiasts who want there to be a forward agenda, who want to hear that their day is not over, that there is still hope and so on and so forth? How do you, how do you take care of those people with that point of view?

GORDON BROWN: I think people will see tomorrow that the detailed work that has been done by the Treasury shows many of the benefits of the single currency, and I'm not going to presume what is going to be announced tomorrow, but I come back to this point, it is important to unite the whole of the country around a pro-European consensus for the future.

You see, 30 years ago you could make the case for Europe, to avoid war. People do not believe that conflict is likely to happen, at least between the major countries of Europe now. You've got to make the case now on prosperity and I believe that these anti-European prejudices that have been built up over these last few years, partly as a result of the end of the cold war and people seeking an identity for our country, defining it as anti-European is not the right way forward.

And that's why Tony Blair and I have talked about this a great deal over the last few weeks. Europe is operating in a global economy, it is modernising and changing and has to modernise more. Britain has 60 per cent of its trade with Europe, three million jobs, and the idea that we should take Iain Duncan Smith's advice - and it really does surprise me that he has learnt nothing - that after 30 years we should virtually leave the European Union is a terrible political economic and patriotic mistake for the country, it is in the patriotic interest that we're an active part of Europe.

DAVID FROST: And what - if you would give two examples on each side - in what ways does our economy need to be more like their economies, and in what way do their economies need to be more like our economy?

GORDON BROWN: Well you see, we've been learning from the rest of Europe about skills and the importance of education and training, and we haven't been very good at that over the last few years, so we're learning about that. In some countries I think they deal with environmental issues better than we have done, and we've been learning again. I think they're learning from us.

We've created one and a half million jobs, we've got the lowest unemployment of any of the major industrialised countries. I've been meeting people from the European Union who are looking at how they can learn from our tax benefit systems and our New Deal for employment, because we have created a million and a half jobs and we have done very well on that.

So economic reform, Europe is learning from us. I think we've learning on skills and education and training and perhaps on issues related to the environment as well. And I think this debate about the future of Europe that Iain Duncan Smith entered today is a very important one.

But I will be putting the patriotic case for Britain to be members of the European Union and Tony Blair and I are agreed that the time is right to unite the country around a pro-European consensus.

DAVID FROST: And are we getting, because of that and other things, are we getting closer than when you announced this policy six years ago? Are we, are we any closer today than we were then?

GORDON BROWN: I think that's what the statement will say tomorrow. It's tempting, you know David, you're always enticing me to announce something that should be announced in the House of Commons, but I think that's the right thing for tomorrow, when I will set out the facts.

There are 18 background studies, my watchwords throughout are the national economic interest and the stability and prudence with which I've tried to approach every decision, and I think people will hear both a lot of detail tomorrow about the way our economy has been performing and can perform in future years and they will hear also about how Europe is moving forward as well and can move forward.

DAVID FROST: But all these, all these headlines about not yet are not entirely inaccurate, presumably? There's been hundreds of them.

GORDON BROWN: I think you've got to wait for tomorrow. I've said to you before, I've been in favour of the principle of monetary union, of Britain being part of the euro, but I have been concerned and that's why we laid down the five tests, that everything that is done has got to be done in the national economic interest. And that's what - you see the five tests are the guarantee of stability for our country.

They are the guarantee that the national economic interest is pursued and I will set out how each one of them has been dealt with and assessed in what I say is the most comprehensive study we've ever done.

DAVID FROST: Now will you, will you in that case Gordon, you mentioned this earlier on but just spelling it out, will you therefore, after this week is over, go out as you said you've been discussing with the Prime Minister with a patriotic case for Europe, will you go out and campaign for a change in the conditioning of people's minds about Europe?

Will you do that because the YouGov poll two or three weeks ago showed that only if you do that could there be a majority, 11 per cent majority in favour of joining the euro. Are you going to really go out and campaign for Europe?

GORDON BROWN: I'm going to campaign for Europe, it's what is right, it's what I've always believed in, it's been part of everything that I've done. I think the important thing to recognise, however, is this is not about the short term movements of public opinion.

These are long term decisions about the future of our country, long term decisions that cannot be made on the basis of this poll or that poll, it's got to be about how you assess the national economic interest. I did something unpopular in 1997 with some people, making the Bank of England independent and then freezing public expenditure, and my watchwords were get stability and have a prudent economic policy, and it's these same principles, these watchwords, that even although there are 18 studies and many background reports, that's what's going to guide how we interpret the national economic interest.

DAVID FROST: And because the FT said the formula for meeting the economic tests as a prerequisite for ministers even to work towards euro membership has hampered the economic convergence that would help ease Britain's entrance. So you're going to campaign for Europe, are you going to campaign for the euro?

GORDON BROWN: For the principle of the euro, yes, and I'll make the decisions about and announce them, because these are Cabinet decisions that we made on Thursday, tomorrow, and again, if you're patient David, I'm happy to come back and talk about them later and how we've assessed this, but I think the public will be very interested to see, because we've looked at the whole economy, we've looked at the financial services, we've looked at housing, we've looked at investment, we've looked at jobs, what matters to people is that they will be better off not worse off by the decisions that governments make.

And, you know, the trust in governments depends on you being able to make the right decisions and to show people you are working in their interests and not for some political formula, not based on focus groups or opinion polls, doing the right thing by people. And that's why I have taken so much care, and so has the Treasury, to do such a rigorous assessment.

DAVID FROST: And Peter Hains says he's delighted that there's going to be a full time president of the European Commission. Are you delighted about that? He thinks it will make the EU more efficient.

GORDON BROWN: There is a full time president of the European Commission at the moment. What is being proposed is that the Council, that's the Council of Ministers - and that's the answer, you know, to Iain Duncan Smith's point - this is an intergovernmental approach, nation states coming together.

Someone who chairs their business being appointed the president, as the chairman of their business, and representing the nation states, not the Commission, representing nation states as they come together. And you see, there are so many prejudices have been built up over the years and myths that the Conservatives are contributing to about Europe, I believe we should sweep aside these prejudices.

I think most people in our country know that it's worth our while and good to be part of the European Union because 60 per cent of our trade is with the European Union.

DAVID FROST: I see here that John Bruton, the former Irish prime minister, said on Friday that Tony Blair would make a good president. Do you agree?

GORDON BROWN: Well Tony Blair makes a brilliant prime minister. He would be good at anything that he did, but these are, these are matters for him and for other people, not for me.

DAVID FROST: But what about that fascinating story that came out, everyone was talking about it this week, the old Granita story -

GORDON BROWN: It was a good dinner.

DAVID FROST: Yes, it was a very important dinner, but was that actually your writing, as everyone said it was?

GORDON BROWN: It is pretty illegible but I'm afraid to say, if you can read it, it is my writing, yes it is my writing.

DAVID FROST: That is your writing. And you've -

GORDON BROWN: And we did everything we said we'd do. You know, it was about employment opportunities, fairness and skills. We've created the one and a half million jobs, we've introduced the tax credits and tackled poverty amongst children and pensioners and we've got to do more, and equally we've invested heavily in education although obviously we would like to do more.

So in all these areas what we agreed then, and this is the issue of trust, what we agreed then we have tried to achieve and I believe we are on the way to achieving.

DAVID FROST: So you would say that Tony Blair has kept his part of the bargain.

GORDON BROWN: I think the Labour government, with Tony Blair as its leader, has kept its part of the bargain on these issues but of course we're in mid-term, we've got a lot more to do, we've got to see the investment coming through in education and in health and in transport and tackling crime, we've got to show people that the stability has led to prosperity and will continue to do so in the economy and therefore we have got to explain to people the difficult decisions sometimes we're making, including the difficult decisions that Tony Blair rightly made on Iraq and which I came onto your programme to talk about a few weeks ago.

DAVID FROST: Absolutely, and you talked about very forthrightly indeed. But why did you need to write it all down if you were such old mates?

GORDON BROWN: That was not me writing it down, this was a briefing note that was done by someone else for the press and that's what happened. But I do actually, to look at the note, we did say this was what we were going to do and that was nine years ago and we have tried to do it.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much Gordon, and we'll take an update on the news headlines.

[NEWS]

DAVID FROST: All that news and so on about Iraq, WMD and so on, do you think that the government is in travail now, not being trusted, the thing today and so on, do you think there's a credibility gap developing?

GORDON BROWN: I think, David, the evidence and history will prove that Tony Blair made a courageous and the right decision over Iraq and I believe that all countries, when we passed a UN resolution, including France, including Germany, including Russia, believed that there were and are weapons of mass destruction.

That was at the heart of it, the disagreement with the allies was over whether we should have military action or diplomatic action, but they all agreed that there were weapons of mass destruction.

DAVID FROST: And there was no manipulation of the intelligence material?

GORDON BROWN: The committees can look at all this. Tony Blair, himself, has said that the intelligence committee and then of course the foreign affairs committee will look at this but I believe history and indeed all the evidence will prove that Tony Blair made the right decisions for our country, and the right decisions for peace and security in the world.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much, and you would have made the same decisions.

GORDON BROWN: Exactly.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much for being with us Gordon, we wish you a restful day tomorrow.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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