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William Hague interview

On the Politics Show, Sunday 15 June 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed William Hague MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary

William Hague MP
William Hague MP

JON SOPEL: I'm joined now by the Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague.

Mr Hague, thanks very much for being with us.

The Conservative Party makes much of British sovereignty, so why don't we carry on with ratification, who cares what the Irish have decided.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, Ireland is a, a sovereign independent nation as well and they're one of the twenty seven countries that have to agree to this treaty, for it to be ratified.

Now that they have said no, I think the only point in other countries continuing to ratify the treaty, is to put pressure on the Irish, to bully the Irish if you like, kind of preparatory move to saying to the Irish, well, you're going to have to vote again on this. And that is why I don't like the government going ahead with ratification, completing that in the House of Lords.

They should instead be giving a lead in the opposite direction and saying, look the people of Ireland have said this and the people of Britain would say this if they were asked, and of many other countries, let's treat this as a wake up call and stop this centralizing agenda and abandon this treaty.

JON SOPEL: Who knows that will unfold, I mean the Irish could even leave the EU and then there will be twenty six countries left.

You know, I'm talking about extremes, in which case, why don't we just carry on with the ratification and what happens with Ireland can sort itself out.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, there you are talking about extremes, the Irish are not going to leave the European Union. But remember that this is not really just Ireland.

It's easy to say, well twenty six countries have agreed to it and only one has disagreed but of course they're the only ones who've had a vote and the European constitution, which was 90% the same thing, was rejected by the voters of France and the Netherlands in their referendums, three years ago, most countries that have had referendums, on this document or something similar to it, have rejected it.

So, there's a fundamental problem here for the European Union, which is you can't build political institutions in democratic countries without popular consent. And that at the moment is what Europe's leaders are trying to do

JON SOPEL: So Mr Hague, what can you practically do to delay the further ratification of this process because it goes to the House of Lords this week.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well, Conservatives in the House of Lords will of course argue that the Bill should not have its third reading, that it shouldn't be completed this week.

As ever, the position there will depend on the Liberal Democrats who say that the, the views of Ireland should be respected, and I think Nick Clegg has said this morning that the Treaty ought to be considered dead. However they also look likely to vote, to continue the ratification. But that is the sort of shambles we often get from the Liberal Democrats on this subject

JON SOPEL: So the Tories will argue ...


WILLIAM HAGUE: But we will try to stop it.

JON SOPEL: You'll try to stop it or delay it.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Absolutely we will. Of course we've argued all along against it and we've argued all along for a referendum but we think that at the very least now, the progress through the House of Lords should be suspended and instead of the government sitting there waiting to see what everybody says, they should for once take a lead in European affairs and advice other European leaders that this is just not a project that can be continued with any more

JON SOPEL: So Europe doesn't need anything then - we've got a Europe now of twenty seven members, with a decision making process that was designed for a much, much smaller European Union.

WILLIAM HAGUE: I don't think it does need further reform and in fact a number of studies have shown, over the last couple of years that it's been working much better than it did before.

This has not been an expected development. When people started work on this treaty, they didn't actually realize that that the European Union would work pretty well without these reforms. But what seems to have happened is that in a Union of twenty seven, countries are much more cautious about using their vetoes.

There are genuine efforts at building consensus. The former Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, just last year said that she thought that things were working much better than they were before.

And so there is no need for this Treaty and for setting up a permanent President, a Foreign Minister of Europe, for abolishing sixty national vetoes. It's not necessary and no one has to buy the argument that we have to do it in order to have enlargement. The facts don't show that any more.

JON SOPEL: You obviously feel very strongly about this. Have you thought of forcing a by-election on it?

WILLIAM HAGUE: (laughs) No, I, I don't agree with that way forward for individual MPs. I would have preferred David Davis to stay at his post as Shadow Home Secretary although I wish him very well in what he's done. I hope he will be safely returned to parliament with a large majority but er, if we all embarked on that course ... go on. (interjection)

JON SOPEL: Tell me honestly, what was your first reaction when you heard. Did you think he'd gone mad.

WILLIAM HAGUE: No, I was surprised to hear it. This was not a decision that we took together, it was not something that he'd consulted his senior colleagues about.

But I think one of the good things for us, looking back at this last few days and looking at today's opinion polls, which show an increased Conservative lead is that we're doing well enough now in the Conservative Party, to take this sort of thing in our stride.

We have a brilliant leader and a strong team. We've got some really good talent on the way up, so there is a new Shadow Home Secretary, who is already showing he's very good at the job. And I think we can, we can take these things in our stride pretty well now.

JON SOPEL: Just to confirm. You think he was wrong.

WILLIAM HAGUE: I wouldn't have done that myself, so I, I disagree with that decision, but I agree very much with his view on civil liberties and as I say, I hope now that he's done it, I wish him well. I hope he's returned to parliament, but it wasn't a collective decision, it wasn't a decision that we took together.

JON SOPEL: Why was it the wrong decision.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well as I say, I would have preferred him to stay at his post as Shadow Home Secretary, because he's done an outstanding job at that, the last few years. And there's much to be done in parliament over the coming weeks and months on that. But now he's taken this decision, we have to make the best of it and I hope he does well.

As I say, there's a new, good Shadow Home Secretary and the Conservative Party is forging ahead, despite this unexpected event because fundamental forces in politics, including the fact we've sorted ourselves out, and we have a truly terrible government, as the country can now see, are all very much on our side.

JON SOPEL: William Hague, you're speaking in code. You clearly think it's an excruciatingly bad decision.

WILLIAM HAGUE: I am not at all speaking in code. I think I've been very frank about that. I would have preferred for him to stay at his post but I'm also very frank, is it a set-back for the Conservative Party. No, that would be making too much of it.

JON SOPEL: Is it a stunt. Is it a stunt.

WILLIAM HAGUE: No I don't think so because. No, no, no. I think we should, in all of this, we should respect David Davis for the decision that he's taken and there can be no doubt that he feels very strongly.

And indeed we all agree with him in feeling very strongly about civil liberties issues and about the vote that took place earlier this week; so no I don't think that would be right to, to describe it as a stunt. I hope it works out well for him and I hope he's returned with, with a good majority

JON SOPEL: I just want to ask you one other question, relating to your brief as Shadow Foreign Secretary. The US President, Mr Bush is arriving in London later on today . Now one of the things he's cautioned against is that there should be an artificial timetable set for British troop withdrawals from Iraq. He's right isn't he.?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Yes, he's right that there shouldn't be an artificial time table. It must depend on the security situation. It is encouraging that the security situation has improved in some respects, including in Basra, since recent operations by the Iraqi army.

So the decision about the presence of the four thousand British troops, must depend on that security situation. But I think we all hope that that situation will have improved enough before long that those troops can be withdrawn. After all, we are very heavily committed to Afghanistan as well.

JON SOPEL: Okay. William Hague, thanks very much indeed for joining us.



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 22 June 2008 at 1200BST on BBC One.
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