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Breakfast with Frost
Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith says the government's Euro decision is political
Interview with the Leader of the Opposition, Iain Duncan Smith on Sunday 08 June 2003.

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

DAVID FROST: Now back to our own domestic politics. I'm joined now by the Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, welcome back.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Morning, David, good morning.

DAVID FROST: What if, not this time around necessarily, but if there came a moment where you were convinced that the five economic tests were resoundingly passed, that wouldn't affect your opposition to going into the euro, would it? Because you're a never man.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well, let me put it like this. The incoming governor of the Bank of England said that it would take 200 years for us to be certain whether all these sort of economic tests meant anything or whether there was convergence. And even this last week, we've seen interest rates going in the opposite direction while they were going in the right direction earlier on.

So, my point is, you'll never actually be able to have a fixed point, a fixed moment, when there is an absolute economic coalition where you've converged to such an extent that there is no other argument because if you look at Germany, Germany is being hammered at the moment by its involvement with the euro, interest rates at the wrong levels for it, it's got real problems, and other countries around the periphery.

So for them it's political, and this is the point that I make time and again, this is a political judgement, the five economic tests are really a smokescreen, when all they are is saying can we win the referendum, can we win the referendum, can we win the referendum, can we win the referendum, that's really what it's all about.

DAVID FROST: But isn't that - doesn't that work both ways? If, as you say, we can't be sure what the situation will be in 200 years and were we right to have converged or whatever, equally, can we be sure that in 30 or 40 years it won't be a must to go in, how can we be sure about that either?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I just simply say, look the British people don't want to enter. They know this is a political decision and they know that the economic circumstances are peripheral to that decision. Now the Chancellor says - and you'll be having him on later on - he says no, that these five economic tests are the only things that matter. In fact they come and go.

The Prime Minister has at times said it is a huge political issue - and in fact the other day he said it was our destiny to join - so I think the whole point to make about this is they believe in it in principle and yet they're playing games. All they're really trying to do is find a moment when they can win the referendum and then they'll enter. And the worst thing they can do right now is to postpone this decision just for a year or so.

British business needs stability, it needs a long term sense that changes aren't going to be made and they're going to give British business, in crisis and difficulty, a worse prospect.

DAVID FROST: But if, if you had a situation though Iain, where British business was clearly 85, 90 per cent in favour of going in, and the public was 85 or 90 per cent in favour of going in, it would be a tough battle to fight against that, but you would still say never. You are a never man in any circumstances, is that right?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well my belief is that the euro would be bad for our democracy and bad for our economy. I think the combination of the two, it is a political issue, there are economics involved but it is a political issue at the end of the day and people take this - in Germany if you talk to them, they don't talk about this as a economic issue, or in France, they talked about it openly in their debates as about politics.

Because even today the German people when asked whether they'd prefer to have the deutschmark, they say yes, because they feel as though they've been damaged by it, but they accept the rationale that their government presented, which was that it was political. And this is therefore a peculiar and idiotic debate that's going on and it's all about, at the moment, the Chancellor lining up his forces against the Prime Minister on the other hand and what we're having at the moment is this game as to who will, if the Chancellor gets his way then they'll rule it out until after the next election, the Prime Minister gets his way they won't rule it out and they might just go to the referendum.

And so we're having this sort of silly game of spitting at each other, shouting at each other, meanwhile it's the British people who are losing out.

And I have a very simple point to make, which is this: they're busy talking about something and obsesses about something the British people don't want, we're trying to talk about health and education, things that the British people do really want to know about and now are going wrong and need to be resolved and the government should be focusing on those.

DAVID FROST: But if, in the situation that the government finds itself, could you imagine a day when it's your government when, because they wouldn't renegotiate some terms with the EU, that you would actually, as prime minister, take Britain out of the European Union? Could you envisage that?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well I actually happen to think that today all nations are interdependent with each other, in the sense that we all trade, cooperate, we saw during the Iraq war that there were new and interesting alliances, countries in eastern Europe and us. My view about this is not in or out, the question is what do you actually want?

How are you going to arrange these things so that Britain, as a nation state, both has an involvement and a say in what goes on in Europe, at the same time as having interest and involvements with America across the board in the Far East? And my only point is, we have reached a moment, I think, with this euro constitution, as being proposed, when Europe moves from that point of being a group of nation states cooperating and trading to becoming, ultimately, a state.

It has a, it has a legal entity, it will have a constitution which takes supremacy over every other nation's constitution in Europe, and I'd say that's a moment when you cease to be really a group of nation states and you become a large nation state. Now they should have a referendum on that, because I think the British people have a right to decide.

And my point is, it's not us leaving Europe, it's actually the others making this finally something which we don't want. We're very happy and want to develop and get more flexibility in Europe, get more power to the nation states.

DAVID FROST: But if the vote, if the vote on the constitution was lost by the government - if there was a vote, a referendum on . and it was lost, what does that leave? Does it leave you -

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: No that means that we then simply say you can't go ahead with this within the existing treaties. If you want to take this to the stages that you want, then you have to create an entity which you then describe as a state or a political union in such that it isn't at the moment. And so in other words, we're on very firm ground.

The government should have the confidence to be able to say to our partners and our friends in Europe, no, this is going in the wrong direction. Look, the Iraq war, I think, changed everything. What it showed was that the idea of this ever deeper union into a sort of political state creating a, a state-like solution to life, one big power block ignoring the rest of the world, where we all agree everything together like foreign policy and defence, but somehow not with the others like America, is wrong. It doesn't exist.

What we need is flexibility, a new Europe which is about nation states cooperating and trading, working with the United States, not making the United States an enemy, as it appears to be amongst some in the European Union.

DAVID FROST: While you're here, I wanted a word about your new policies as they emerge, in particular the latest one: patient's passports. What happens, Iain, in the situation where someone opts to go to another hospital, a private hospital, they get a percentage from the NHS, allegedly it might be 60 per cent, like in Finland or whatever, and they have to top it up. What if they don't have the money to top it up?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Well right now what you have, this last year, 300,000 people had to leave the NHS, pay completely for themselves, the majority were pensioners on fixed incomes. So your question really is about what about those who can't afford it right now, who get no help or assistance.

And that behind that 300,000 people, perhaps even up to a million people, who could, would go somewhere else to try and get their treatment because they're in such pain, they can't afford it all but they might have been able to do it if they'd had some assistance from the government.

What we're saying is, you can go anywhere in the NHS, without any extra payment, or if you have to go out to widen the service, then we will assist you because we believe the tax money you pay is yours and you should have some ownership over that, and what we're saying is the only way to widen the service, to give people more access to treatment, is to be able to give them that element of choice, which they don't have right now.

And so this will help people who exist on the list, those who can't go outside, they will get lower, shorter lists, lower waits, and those who go out, who can't go out at the moment, they will get assistance, and therefore you will get more people getting treatment, faster and to a higher standard than we're getting at the moment.

DAVID FROST: One last question Iain. In terms of WMD and so on, if no weapons of mass destruction are found within say two years, should prime minister Blair resign?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I believe that the decision the Prime Minister took, to go and liberate Iraq, was the right decision. I make no bones about that. My concern is, right now, not that just weapons of mass destruction might not be found - I believe they will find the means to produce those weapons of mass destruction - the problem I have right now is that the government's credibility, the Prime Minister's credibility, is on the line because nobody believes what he says any more.

The only way to clear that up, and to make sure that our troops and our intelligence services are trusted in the next few years during the reconstruction is to have an independent inquiry. If he does that, people will believe once again that what they're doing is right. My problem is that it makes it very difficult for him to say anything about weapons of mass destruction in the future if he doesn't have that independent inquiry.

DAVID FROST: Last question, part two then in that case, is do you think you were duped by the Prime Minister?

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: I don't believe, and I don't want to believe, that I, I, he knowingly said anything to me or presented to me anything that he knew to be wrong. My belief is, by and large, I got the right intelligence. However, my concern is the way that this was twisted and fiddled and spun by people like Alistair Campbell, that's where it debased intelligence, we've heard the rows, the threats to resign from the leaders of MI5 and MI6, letters of apology, they need to clear this up.

And I think the British people have a right to be able to trust what their government says to them and they need to show through an independent inquiry that's the case.

DAVID FROST: Iain, thank you very much indeed. Thank you for being with us. INTERVIEW ENDS


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