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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 March 2007, 14:40 GMT
Margaret Beckett interview transcript
Jon Sopel, on the Politics Show, Sunday 18 March 2007, interviewed the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett

Margaret Beckett
I?m really quite surprised at Hans Blix saying something so, so foolish, as well as so negative.
Margaret Beckett

The Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has gone onto the offensive over the situation in Iraq.

In an interview with BBC One's Politics Show, to mark the fourth anniversary of the invasion, she attacked the former UN arms inspector Hans Blix, who said that apart from the end of Saddam, everything in Iraq since the invasion had been a disaster:

"It might be what most people think, but it?s complete nonsense. I mean I?m really quite surprised at Hans Blix saying something so, so foolish, as well as so negative. I mean does he think that the fact that so many people in Iraq, voted in their election, is of no importance ? it was important enough to them, to risk death to do it, and there?s been an enormous amount of work, schools re-built, health centres, you know electricity and water infrastructure repair, massive, massive amount of change...

I was looking at some of the background information being produced for the anniversary and it?s quite remarkable, the amount of change and improvement that there has been, which we never, ever hear about.

Now that?s not to say, there?s not still a terribly dangerous security situation in some parts of Iraq, and it?s undoubtedly true, and it?s what people are trying every day to tackle. But we never hear about the things that have gone better in Iraq."

On the future leadership of the Labour Party, Mrs Beckett said that she would like Gordon Brown to succeed Tony Blair and that it would be better for him not face a serious challenge.

JON SOPEL: And with regards to the leadership, Gordon Brown is going to face a serious challenge or not. Probably not?

MARGARET BECKETT: Your guess is as good as mine probably.

JON SOPEL: Oh, I doubt it.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, to some extent I hope not actually, because I think, as you know, I hold the view that Gordon is the person who should be the next Prime Minister, and I think that the good thing will be if he is able to concentrate on what that will mean and what he needs to do, to help to take this country forward to even greater success.

The Foreign Secretary also said that she saw no reason for a woman to become Deputy Leader of the party:

JON SOPEL: Do you want to see a woman as Deputy Leader?

MARGARET BECKETT: I want to see the best Deputy Leader that there can be and I haven?t made up my mind who I shall vote for because I think it?s, I mean it?s potentially a wide and excellent field and it?s really hard to see whether they can all get enough nominations to stand is another matter. We?ll still have to see...(interjection)

JON SOPEL: But it doesn?t matter that it?s a woman per se?

MARGARET BECKETT: I?ve never made the argument I don?t think that it had to be a woman per se.

Asked whether she would like to continue as Foreign Secretary after Tony Blair leaves office, Mrs. Beckett said:

MARGARET BECKETT: I would like to but of course, it is always, as ever, in the gift of the Prime Minister of the day.

Turning to Europe, Margaret Beckett rejected calls from the President of the European Commission and the German Presidency of the EU for the ill-fated 2005 European Constitution to be revived.

She said: "There?s been a certain kind of mood music, shall we say, from some quarters that, oh well, really hardly anything [about the Constitution] needs to change. We just tweak it a bit here and there or maybe we even put more in to it. I think that?s not just going to fly."

Next weekend European leaders meet in Berlin to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. Margaret Beckett dismissed the idea that there might be progress on a new treaty before the end of Germany's six month Presidency of the EU (June 2007).

"I have to admit that I think that this is an up hill task, certainly to do it during the German Presidency not least because they?ve made it quite clear that they realize that you?re not likely to get much clarity, until after the French elections, and that comes quite close to the end of their Presidency, so if they can get consensus on a rounder package, that everyone can agree, that will be absolutely great, but I think it will be difficult."

Speaking on the same programme, the President of the European Commission Jos Manuel Barroso said Britain and others had a responsibility to resolve the constitution issue:

"I think that everybody that is reasonable and rational should understand that we need to have common strong institutions so what I ask all people in Europe, also those who are critics, is to help us solve this problem because we need a Europe that delivers concrete results and we can only do it if we have institutions that are efficient in the way they take decisions?.. Britain, like all the other countries have signed the Constitutional treaty so there is a kind of responsibility; when we sign a treaty we have some kind of obligation to ratify it. Okay it wasn't possible to ratify it because there were two negative referendums so what we are now asking all the governments is to give a positive contribution, a constructive approach so that we can solve this issue and go ahead."

But Margaret Beckett disagreed:

Well he is the President of the Commission, and naturally, he?s trying to encourage everybody to seek for common ground. But I mean, he knows, as well as everybody else, that this is not going to be easy.

On the same programme the Conservative Foreign Affairs spokesman William Hague said any revived EU Constitution must be put to a referendum in the UK - as Tony Blair had promised the 2005 version would be:

"To just take pieces of what was in the Constitution and call it something else and hope that people will be fooled, by saying 'this is not the Constitution anymore'! Well, that would be a very dangerous course for them to embark on, and I don't think that people would be fooled.

And if you're then going to say : "You don't have to worry too much about this, some powers are transferred to the EU but not too many in the view of the government..." well then I think they would come up against our strong view that so many powers have now been transferred to the European Union that people are entitled in this country to a Referendum whenever further powers are transferred to the European Union."

But Margaret Beckett felt there would be no need to put any new treaty to the electorate:

MARGARET BECKETT: We would certainly hope that it would be possible to get, if we can get agreement and common ground, that that could be in an area where it wouldn?t need to trigger a referendum here.

JON SOPEL: So then it would be so much more scaled down than the original documents?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, this is the trouble. I mean I?ve no doubt by the way that no matter what it says, if there?s any agreement at all, there will be people who will call for a referendum anyway, but since they?re all people who never had a referendum when they had the opportunity, I think we can rise above that.

TRANSCRIPT

BBC ONE POLITICS SHOW, recorded 16 March 2007

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.

INTERVIEW WITH: MARGARET BECKETT, FOREIGN SECRETARY

JON SOPEL: Foreign Secretary, Hans Blix, the former Chief UN Weapons Inspector, said this week, I think everything in Iraq after the invasion has been a tragedy; the only positive thing, I think, is the disappearance of Saddam Hussein. Isn?t that what most people think?

MARGARET BECKETT: It might be what most people think, but it?s complete nonsense. I mean I?m really quite surprised at Hans Blix saying something so, so foolish, as well as so negative. I mean does he think that the fact that so many people in Iraq, voted in their election, is of no importance ? it was important enough to them, to risk death to do it, and there?s been an enormous amount of work, schools re-built, health centres, you know electricity and water infrastructure repair, massive, massive amount of change.

JON SOPEL: But a lot of people would say that actually, you talk about schools rebuilt, but at least in Saddam?s era, you didn?t have to worry about your child being blown up on the way to school. Whereas that is something that is an ever present threat now.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well it depends on where you are. I mean there are parts of Iraq, where that is a real problem, principally Baghdad, but most of Iraq is not in that position and of course, in Saddam?s era, you might or might not, depending on the circumstances, have to worry about your child being blow up by an improvised device, but you might have to worry about your child being gassed, as thousands were at Halabjah. You might have to worry about your child, or your brother, or your father being picked up off the street and never seen again.

JON SOPEL: I?m struck by that first answer you gave, where you sounded really quite optimistic about Iraq. Do you feel optimistic?

MARGARET BECKETT: I do think there are much better prospects for Iraq, than people to-day want to admit, but one of the reasons I?m saying that is that before I came and did this interview, I was looking at some of the background information being produced for the anniversary and it?s quite remarkable, the amount of change and improvement that there has been, which we never, ever hear about. Now that?s not to say, there?s not still a terribly dangerous security situation in some parts of Iraq, and it?s undoubtedly true, and it?s what people are trying every day to tackle. But we never hear about the things that have gone better in Iraq.

JON SOPEL: You?ve talked about there, outlined what is the best-case scenario for Iraq. What is the worse case scenario?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well the worse case scenario, is that they?re not able to overcome the wish of that minority, to destroy, either because they?re people who don?t have any care for ordinary Iraqis or their lives, or because it?s just extremely difficult. I mean that is obviously, a real risk and a real problem but the Iraqi government and the people of Iraq, I believe are becoming increasingly aware of the danger that this presents to them and they?re increasingly determined to tackle it.

JON SOPEL: And then what?

MARGARET BECKETT: And then, what, what?

JON SOPEL: Well if that scenario comes to pass.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, everybody is working very hard to try and ensure that it does not come to pass.

JON SOPEL: But does that mean that British troops have to stay much longer, American troops have to stay much longer, just trying to hold the ring.

MARGARET BECKETT: One of the things that is encouraging about Iraq to-day, is the determination of the government and the senior people in Iraq, actually to take control of their own lives and their own affairs. They know that there are still problems.

They know that, they need for example, more trained people, Army, Police and so on, although there are again, hundreds of thousands more than there were ? they know that they?re not there yet.

But they really want to take more responsibility for themselves, and to deal with these issues in their own way, and they may well be right in thinking that sometimes they?ll be better than we are at dealing with them.

JON SOPEL: Lots has been written about whether Britain?s standing in the world has been enhanced or damaged by Iraq and about America too. Do you think President Bush will go down as one of the great American Presidents?

MARGARET BECKETT: Oh, I think that?s really hard to judge. Certainly it?s... (interjection)

JON SOPEL: What?s your instinct on him?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, he?s been in office through very difficult times but I think he?s got another two years to go. There are considerable changes taking place in the world, it?s... (interjection)

JON SOPEL: Your colleague, Peter Hain, said he was one of the most right wing Presidents that have... (interjection)

MARGARET BECKETT: Yes, well I?ve said, you know, with respect to Peter, I think that was an exaggeration. But certainly, if, if he is able for example, to make a real contribution to peace in the Middle East, where, I believe I?m right in saying, he was the first American President to say, the only answer is a two state solution, if he is able to accept the real dangers of energy and climate security and begin to move America in the right direction on those issues, then his contribution will perhaps look rather different than it does to-day.

JON SOPEL: Because you do agree, at the moment, it doesn?t look great.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, at the moment they?re going through a particularly difficult time and that?s why they put those extra troops in to Baghdad, to try and deal with what is undoubtedly, a very dangerous and difficult situation.

JON SOPEL: I just want to talk about the situation in Zimbabwe, you condemned the treatment meted out to Morgan Tsvangirai ? is there anything that we can do?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, we are pressing very hard for action to be taken in the UN Human Rights Council. This is a new body, fairly recently set up, this is one of its first major tests and there?s general agreement that that is the right place to call for action against the government of Robert Mugabe so that is what we are doing.

Also, we are trying to gather information about the people who are personally responsible for the beatings and the, what is described in Zimbabwe as the torture that was inflicted on the opposition leader and some of his supporters, in order to make sure that those people, personally, are on the list of people who are, you know, being targeted by the international community and also of course, we?ll be taking to other EU colleagues about how we can strengthen the EU?s targeted bands.

JON SOPEL: Do you hold Robert Mugabe responsible?

MARGARET BECKETT: One can only hold him responsible. He is in charge of the government. He has made it very clear that this is a deliberate act of policy on the part of the government of Zimbabwe and that he is indifferent to the real, I think horror, which is felt right across the international community.

JON SOPEL: He said, Go Hang, didn?t he, to you and other Western leaders?

MARGARET BECKETT: I believe that is certainly what he has said, yes.

JON SOPEL: And therefore, don?t you think that there?s a possibility that you are seen as the old colonial power, and therefore somehow it will solidify support in his country, by taking a tough line against you know, British condemnation?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, it?s not only we who have condemned what is happening. One of the cards that he has played repeatedly, and unfortunately very successfully, is to pretend that this is somehow just a dispute between him and the United Kingdom, it?s not.

It?s true that the United Kingdom is one of the biggest donors to the people of Zimbabwe and that we are helping to keep a lot of people alive, keep body and soul together, who otherwise would die because of the neglect and incompetence of the regime in Zimbabwe.

What is not true is either that Britain is the only country in the world that is desperately concern of the plight of the Zimbabwean people, and the way in this recent behaviour is showing diminution of their freedoms, it?s not true everyone is concerned.

And you know, I do urge ? it?s one of the reasons why we in the British government try to approach the issue in a way which doesn?t give him the excuse to pretend it?s all just about the relationship between him and us, because that way, it?s the people of Zimbabwe who continue to suffer.

JON SOPEL: Let?s talk about matters closer to home now. You took part in the Trident debate this week. Some would say that the scale of the rebellion that took place by Labour backbench MPs, showed that frankly, Tony Blair has lost all authority. Betty Boothroyd said, he?d become a lame duck Prime Minister, isn?t that right.

MARGARET BECKETT: No, I don?t think it is and I think, I mean it?s a very very difficult issue and coming at what is not particularly an easy time, and when people knew I?m afraid that with the support of the opposition for the policy the government was pursuing, the government wasn?t likely to be defeated and all of that makes for circumstances in which sometimes people choose what they might see as the easier course, some of course very much the principled cause ? and don?t feel able to support the policy the government is advocating.

JON SOPEL: You say a very difficult time, what does that mean?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well we?re approaching elections which are always a key test and of course we?re going in to a period when Labour MPs are facing their constituency parties to decide whether or not they will be the candidate next time.

JON SOPEL: And also, there?s the whole question of the leadership which.. not talking about.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well I didn?t have that in mind, but yes, at some point, the Prime Minister will leave office.

JON SOPEL: Do you want to see a woman as Deputy Leader?

MARGARET BECKETT: I want to see the best Deputy Leader that there can be and I haven?t made up my mind who I shall vote for because I think it?s, I mean it?s potentially a wide and excellent field and it?s really hard to see whether they can all get enough nominations to stand is another matter. We?ll still have to see...(interjection)

JON SOPEL: But it doesn?t matter that it?s a woman per se.

MARGARET BECKETT: I?ve never made the argument I don?t think that it had to be a woman per se.

JON SOPEL: And with regards to the leadership, Gordon Brown is going to face a serious challenge or not. Probably not?

MARGARET BECKETT: Your guess is as good as mine probably.

JON SOPEL: Oh, I doubt it.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, to some extent I hope not actually, because I think, as you know, I hold the view that Gordon is the person who should be the next Prime Minister, and I think that the good thing will be if he is able to concentrate on what that will mean and what he needs to do, to help to take this country forward to even greater success.

JON SOPEL: And would you like to stay on as Foreign Secretary, to Prime Minister Brown?

MARGARET BECKETT: I would like to but of course, it is always, as ever, in the gift of the Prime Minister of the day.

JON SOPEL: Margaret Beckett, for the moment, thank you very much.

MARGARET BECKETT: Thank you.

EU CONSTITUTION SECTION

JON SOPEL: Margaret Beckett, do you accept that something like the 2005 Treaty, which was after all ratified by the vast majority of EU nations, is back on the agenda.

MARGARET BECKETT: I think that?s an illusion. I mean there are people, I mean I completely understand the indignation of those colleagues whose countries have ratified the Treaty and who say, well you know, we?ve agreed it, therefore we must have something that?s you know, like, as near to that as makes no difference.

But that?s to completely ignore the fact that the French and the Dutch rejected it, really, quite substantially. Indeed, of all the, there were four countries that had a referendum, two said no, one squeaked through and only in one could you say the referendum really gave approval, you can?t ignore that, I mean it would be an insult to the people of France and Holland if you did.

JON SOPEL: But isn?t it right that the German, Angela Merkel is trying to push forward maybe not quite such a fat document, but a slimed down version of it.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, there?s a world of difference between saying you go back to the original, and saying that you recognise you can?t go back to the original; so are there things on which you can genuinely get agreement and consensus.

I have to admit that I think that this is an up hill task, certainly to do it during the German Presidency not least because they?ve made it quite clear that they realize that you?re not likely to get much clarity, until after the French elections, and that comes quite close to the end of their Presidency, so if they can get consensus on a rounder package, that everyone can agree, that will be absolutely great but I think it will be difficult.

JON SOPEL: Is there consensus yet around the package.

MARGARET BECKETT: Oh, not remotely.

JON SOPEL: Not remotely.

MARGARET BECKETT: No.

JON SOPEL: So what are the sticking points. Too many to list.

MARGARET BECKETT: Yes, absolutely. I think that the main problem is that you have, - the French and the Dutch have to be able to say that this is different because otherwise they will only get turned over again and you know, that is not an easy problem to resolve.

JON SOPEL: And if you get a package of proposals that there is consensus on, could you envisage the circumstances where we would seek ratification without a referendum.

MARGARET BECKETT: We would certainly hope that it would be possible to get, if we can get agreement and common ground, that that could be in an area where it wouldn?t need to trigger a referendum here.

JON SOPEL: So then it would be so much more scaled down than the original documents.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, this is the trouble. I mean I?ve no doubt by the way that no matter what he says, if there?s any agreement at all, there will be people who will call for a referendum anyway, but since they?re all people who never had a referendum when they had the opportunity, I think we can rise above that.

JON SOPEL: What about Jose Manuel Barosso, he says, when Britain, like all other countries have signed the constitutional treaty ? so there is a kind of responsibility, when we sign a treaty, we have some kind of obligation to ratify it.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well he is the President of the Commission, and naturally, he?s trying to encourage everybody to seek for common ground. But I mean, he knows, as well as everybody else, that this is not going to be easy.

JON SOPEL: You seem to be suggesting that this is in such deep long grass, that it?s virtually up to your neck.

MARGARET BECKETT: No, I?m not necessarily suggesting that but I think it does depend on how ambitious people are and you know, there?s been a certain kind of mood music, shall we say, from some quarters that, oh well, really hardly anything needs to change. We just tweak it a bit here and there or maybe we even put more in to it. I think that?s not just going to fly.

JON SOPEL: So, okay, the proposed treaty includes more qualified majority voting ? President of ? more stable, on a more stable minister, a foreign minister ? it?s a constitution in all but name isn?t it.

MARGARET BECKETT: Well, not necessarily. I mean I think we have to look very carefully at where there is consensus, what can be agreed and then we would have to judge and whether or not that was sufficiently constitutional change, that it required a referendum.

Many of the things that were in the original constitutional treaty, were just rolled in because it turned in to one of those grand projects. There was no need for them to be in a treaty that was about a constitution. Many of them were in the existing treaties so we have to look at that and see what we can disaggregate and actually would need a change and what would not.

JON SOPEL: Margaret Beckett, thank you very much.

MARGARET BECKETT: Thank you.

END OF INTERVIEW


Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.


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The Politics Show Sunday 18 March 2007 at 12.00GMT on BBC One.

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