Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.
NB:This transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.
Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.
On Politics Show, Sunday 29 January 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed:
- William Hague MP
- Hilary Benn MP
Discussion with William Hague
JON SOPEL: Well the Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, joins us now from Darlington. Mr Hague, we tried to be as helpful as we could. It doesn't sound like this new centre right grouping is doing that well.
WILLIAM HAGUE: I think you could have saved the BBC telephone bill a little bit there, because I know it's done with the best of intentions, ringing around the groups, but obviously they're not going to say in response to a phone call, that they're going to change their allegiances in the European Parliament.
This is a big decision for any such parties. We are talking to quite a lot of the parties; we're at a preliminary stage in this. I'm going to Brussels - the next couple of days, but these are pretty preliminary meetings, and I'm expecting this process to take some months yet.
JON SOPEL: Yeah, so you've got no concrete pledges yet, of any party that will join you.
WILLIAM HAGUE: Well if I had, I wouldn't be a position to reveal them at this point. Obviously there are confidential discussions going on between some of the parties.
I also want to consult our own members of the European Parliament and Timothy Kirkhope, the Leader of our MEPs about how and when to implement the pledge that David Cameron has made. It's worth looking at the bigger issues that you've just been looking at in your report on the Austrian Presidency there.
One of the reasons we want to do this is because we want to address the crisis approaching Europe at the moment; the crisis of leadership as Tony Blair has quite rightly called it in Europe, and look at how to address the challenge of competition from China and India; Europe is facing a profound crisis: economically, in keeping up in Higher Education with the rest of the world, and we can't just go on in the same old way and that's why we want to form a, a new grouping and put forward new ideas in the future.
JON SOPEL: Well just on this new grouping, I mean how are you doing. I mean obviously you've got confidential discussions, but do you sense that this new group if coming together, or will come together.
WILLIAM HAGUE: I think it will come together, there are certainly parties interested in, certainly in discussing it and there may be parties interested in joining it, it's much too early to actually announce such a grouping.
We said, David Cameron and I, said last month, when I asked about this, that this would take some months. It wouldn't be resolved in a matter of weeks and there a lot of people to consult. All the parties bear in mind, have their own rules, their own internal procedures. Some of them have their own electoral timetables - elections we face in the next year.
It's quite a complex jigsaw but at the heart of it all, is the need to put forward a modern agenda for Europe, that is very different I'm afraid from that (interjection) .. pushing forward the Constitution, a rather centralising agenda that we just heard about, that the Austrian presidency may be putting forward.
JON SOPEL: Okay Mr Hague, you talk about the big ... issues there facing Europe and let's assume you scrape together the five different nations that can come together to form a new grouping. You want maximum influence to shape events. You're going to trade being in one of the biggest blocks for being in a very small block; you're going to lose influence.
WILLIAM HAGUE: Well what does influence come from in the end? Influence comes from the power of ideas, and from actually setting the agenda for the future. Where for example has British influence over European events come from in the last fifteen, twenty years.
Now has any influence over the ideas that we should have less tax, or have a more open economy come from - some of the things we've built in Britain, that Gordon Brown is now undermining - it's come from the power of our example, and the power of the ideas that have been forward in this country in the last twenty years.
And so I think it's very important to bear that in mind. That's where real influence comes from. But of course when it comes to working with other parties in the European parliament, we will continue to work on a whole range of inter-related issues, with all the other groupings in the European Parliament, and nothing that we're saying prevents us from doing that.
JON SOPEL: Well I just wonder how you're doing winning over your MEPs. I mean Caroline Jackson said, Why should anyone give up the influence of the main centre right group, to go and sit with Latvian nationalists. Edward McMillan-Scott says, Burning boats is not a pro