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Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 14:11 GMT
February 22, Birmingham
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Audience question: Does the panel agree that last week's bombing of Iraq demonstrates that Britain has greater allegiance to the US than it does to Europe? You said:
Alliances are formed in pursuits of interests. It suited Europe to get into bed with the USA to counter the Soviet threat. As the European continent stabilises over the coming decades and becomes an even stronger economic area then our interests will incresae in this area. Military, economic and political alliances will surely follow.
Conrad may not have said he is anti Europe but he is certainly pro American, and America and particularly France do not agree. It makes sense as we are all European citizens that we align Britain to Europe and if this is a conflict for the US they will need to ask questions about their policies.
I felt that Robin Cook performed with far more style than his adversaries in what appeared to be a largely eurosceptic audience. The fact that Britain has interests on both sides of the Atlantic shows its dynamism. It would be a mistake to close the door on our European neighbours. The US would surpass the UK and deal directly with Brussels, Paris or Berlin, if the UK were to have no say on Europe's future. A common currency is a logical step in a growing globalised economy.
Well done to Mr Black. A true gentleman who deserves his British citizenship like no other. He acts totally out of interest for the British people without any regard for personal gain that his entirely reasonable and understandable comments might
be expected to afford him. I think we should trust Canadians and Americans a lot more.
The chair could not persuade the panel to answer on the significance of being in Europe on the bombing. Even though the stage under discussion is joining the euro, there is more to this greater European involvement than simple economics - for example social clauses, environmental protection and joint forces. One panellist even said words to the effect that economics, and only economics, will affect a decision. There is much more to joining 'Euro-zone' than this.
I should like to point out that whilst America has always been a country whose population has been drawn from diverse backgrounds and cultures, the Americans' first and only allegiance is to America. This is in complete contrast to Europe which is a community made up of nation states whose first and overriding interest is to its own nation and the interest of Europe is a poor second.
For the last 2000 years superstates have been at war with other countries. How long will it be before the United States of Europe decide for economic reasons to go to war with the USA? I have not brought my two-year-old son into this world for him to face this?
Conrad Black was the only member of that team talking sense. Of course we do no want to turn our backs on Europe, but we must not forget our closer alliance to the USA.
I would like to say that most of Europe is not up to our standard. Although it is good to help others, I see no reason why Britain should be 'dragged down' by Europe, and also forfeit the friendship of the United States to do it. Britain should remain sided with America as a priority.
Yes the attitude of the US is greater. I've served with the military and I'd feel safer working alongside the US than the slack European forces. Be liberal but don't lose sight of Saddam's big scheme!
The air strikes on Iraq this week have caused disagreement with some of our European neighbours who have different foreign policies on Iraq. Doesn't this clearly show the need to keep our independence in setting our own policies and to maintain our right to govern ourselves?
If Britain remains outside the euro zone continue to lose economic/political influence?
Audience question: Does the panel agree that while Britain remains outside the euro zone we will continue to lose our economic and political influence in Europe and the world? You said:
To M Bosma, Holland: "Why do you think Europe needs you?". I wish my family could have seen into the future when they were fighting to help your country in the last war. They wouldn't have bothered, and my two uncles would still be alive today.
A vote for Blair is a vote for Europe and the sooner the people of this country realise this the better. The Tories have said they will not have a referendum and why should they?
I can only say that I feel a combination of disappointment, dismay, and even disdain, at the views of what sems like a large majority of the eurosceptics of the Question Time audience, and the British public in general. The main arguments against joining the euro are, it would seem, jingoistic and reliant upon a shameful and outdated island mentality.
I think it is ridiculous for the Tories to say that the public should NOT be able to decide if we go into the euro. Why? Simple, the public appoints a government for the people. Taking away the ability to choose what they want has got to lose them the election (hopefully they'll keep it up!). If the public want to join the euro they will say so.
As a Canadian, I must say I am completely offended by comments made by some other individuals in this forum that a closer relationship with Nafta creates subservience to the United States. Canadians are justifiably proud of their many differences with the United States while, at the same time, maintaining a completely open trade relationship with the US.
This was without doubt one of the best debates on Europe for a long time. It clearly depicted that the Labour government are clearly out of touch with the majority on the issue of Europe and the single currency. At last the Conservative message came accross loud and clear. Britain should be in Europe but not run by Europe.
Re: Bert from Eccles. I am not particularly bothered about the fate of England, but more concerned about the future for Wales. Wales has traditionally been held back by those in London.
We now want an opportunity, just like Ireland to put that right, break away from the English capitalists and bigots, and move this proud nation forward with our European allies.
M Bosma, Leeuwarden, Holland wrote:
"... why do you think Europe needs you? We are also nicer for you then you are for us." Some people have short memories. If it wasn't for the British all of Europe now would be under the iron fist of the German nation. Britain held out then and should hold out again until it is satisfied a single currency will work for a community of fundamentally different and often incongruous elements.
Nick Fraser of Berkhamsted asks "What is wrong with joining a federalised superstate?". Well, it worked really well for the Soviet Union, didn't it. And presumably he doesn't wholeheartedly think that the US is an ideal superstate model. Yes, the Roman Empire lasted for quite a while and was very profitable for those at the top, but it's hardly an advertisement for superstates.
I am utterly disappointed and even disgusted by the level of discussion about an important topic such as the development of Europe, and one keeps on wondering why the debate in the UK is - in comparison with other European countries - always so much mixed with racist, demagogic and sloganesque comments (Black) and comments which don't show much knowledge of the subject at all (Maude).
I'm intrigued by Peter Boatman of Guernsey's suggestion that the British Royal Family take more of an active part in protecting British interests against the 'threat' from Europe. Excellent idea! Yes, let's hear what the Queen (of German descent, lest we forget) and her husband (a Greek) have to say.
Am I the only person to believe there should NOT be a referendum on joining the euro as the general public frankly in no way is qualified to have a valid opinion on the economic consequences. If the matter is put to the public, they will make a choice based on their own petty predudices. Surely such a decision has to be left to the handful of international ecconomists that have any understanding of what the consequences of joining or not joining would be.
Regarding Anthony of Fareham's comments. A lot of people have died on the gallows and on the battle field to make this country what it is today and make hundreds of thousands of people want to come and live here. And us 'little Englanders' have the fourth largest economy in the world. We have a seat at the WTO. We will lose that when we join a federal Europe.
During the debate on this question Robin Cook made reference to Nissan only investing in this country because of the likelihood of the UK entering the euro and that if the UK did not join it would take its investment elsewhere. Isn't it about time these companies realised that it is the consumer that holds the power? A loss of their UK market through patriotic consumer embargo would soon see them flooding back to the UK with their investment.
Francis Maude stated that we don't need to join the euro as we are the 4th largest economy in the world. What about Germany? It's the third largest. The Germans don't seem to be too fussed!
One comment on this page was that Britain would be "dragged down" by Europe. Has this gentleman never been across the Channel? May I suggest that he and the rest of the Little Englanders who criticise Europe and the EU should book a trip on the Eurostar and look around them. They will see evidence of much better public services, not least the railways, and superior schools and hospitals and far less of a sense of squalor than parts of this country.
The views put forward by Mr Cook were dishonest or at least ambiguous. If Labour believed in joining the euro why has a referendum not been allowed in the last four years? The proposal that a referendum may(?) be given early in a future Labour government if the economic conditions are right does not support a pro euro case. In other words Labour at the present time DOES NOT support joining the euro and therefore is not recommending a referendum now.
No thanks!!! Why?.. I'll tell you. Because I don't want to stand, waiting, in shops behind people spending a fortnight trying to work out how much their shopping just cost them in "real money".
You can just picture it. You're late for work and getting a packet of fags and in front of you is 'Hilda' complaining that a tin of Whiskas for tiddles cost her 33 quid from Tesco and the shop keeper telling her that they spend 25 hours a day working out everyone's paper bill.
It seems to me that it is mainly the English who are against becoming more closely associated with Europe, and that our friends in what was the UK are more pro euro and seem not to be worried about closer integration. This has to be because England is now run by Scots, with most of the front bench occupied by Scots from the PM down. There can be no doubt now that the main reason for Blair to want a parliament in Scotland and Wales is because he knows that UNITED we stand and DIVIDED we fall to Europe. The election is coming and after it there should not be a single Scot in the English parliament, as this is the only way we can be sure of our being in Europe but not bowing and scraping to them.
Why do we have to wait for the five economic tests to be met before having a referendum?
A simple question: 'If the five tests are favourable in the future, would you want to join the euro?' could be asked now. Instead the government wants to spend millions on pro euro propaganda. The costing for pro and anti-euro should be equal.
The UK has the 4th largest economy in the world. Unemployment is at its lowest for 30 years. Inflation is one of the lowest in Europe. If we join the EMU we put all this at risk, and for what? Bureaucracy, petty rules and regulations. Loss of self-government, loss of controls on taxation. Above all, loss of control of our own destiny. The majority of the UK's exports do not go to the EU. We should replace our membership with a free trade agreement, and also sign up to the Nafta.
By refusing to allow a referendum on whether to join the euro, the Conservative Party run the risk of reducing the forthcoming election merely to a debate over Europe. The general election should reflect the overall public consensus as to how to run the country. Although the UK's role within Europe is clearly central to this, it is by no means the only issue.
I wish to reply to Neil Gaskell's accusations of using "emotive language". Guilty. The idea of seeing my country subsumed into the European superstate would cause anyone who is as proud of their country as I am to use emotive language. As far as the money spending is concerned, Neil Gaskell should know that the government have already spent £23m of tax payers' money on the national changeover plan without any money being allocated to the "keep the pound" campaign -.hardly a level playing field. As for the question "Does he believe that the 'Sun' uses reasoned and considered debate? I don't read the Sun as I despise the tabloids generally. My views are borne of a love of my country and from the evidence available, not from reading the tabloids.
Our wages are higher, our working days are shorter, we have less poverty, why do you think Europe needs you? We are also nicer for you then you are for us.
The euro is a failed currency and joining it will cost each household £1000/annum/year (IOD). Our membership is only needed to pay for the next batch of bankrupt economies that want to join. Our current membership of the EU costs us £4 for every £1 we get back, why do we want to pay more?
Listened to the euro Question Time tonight. Both Robin Cook and Shirley Williams talked about the economic advantages of joining the euro whilst playing down the political, constitutional and sovereignty issues. It seems obvious to me and the vast majority of the British people that by joining the euro it is inevitable that we will be integrated in to a European superstate.
You small-minded, visionless, spineless little Brits! Here you have a wonderful opportunity to recreate a fantastic "Roman Empire", (of which you were a part for 400 years) and you're going to give it all up to become America's yapping little poodle! Pathetic! The Roman "single currency" served Britain well, until the time of King Offa's silver pennies in the 8th century in fact. Conrad Black says we should be independent yet he really only wants us to be subservient to the United States.
Robin Cook reiterated tonight what Mr Blair had said that there would be a referendum on joining the euro within the first half of the next parliament. He added 'if the five economic conditions were met'. Does this mean that if all conditions were not met that there would still be a referendum (to fulfil the prime minister's promise) and if so would the government advocate against joining?
The 'little Englanders' keep on spouting about the loss of their precious sovereignty, and yet the fact remains that the Scots and Welsh want further integration, so why should they be held back by a minority of bigoted voters who make up the current legislative body at London?
Francis Maude was as evasive as ever when pressed on the Tories' long term commitment to retain the pound. Hague and co rightfully highlight the constitutional implications of abandoning sterling for the euro, but only promising to do so for the next five years. The clear implication is that they will indeed consider scrapping the pound after this period whatever deceptive slogans they are now employing in the run up to the forthcoming General Election.
Surely Tim Spencer realises that it is the anti-Europeans who are spending millions "cajoling and scaring" the British public. Emotive language such as "surrenders to our sovereignty" are not found on the positive side of the debate. Does he believe that the 'Sun' uses reasoned and considered debate?
I find it increasingly difficult to understand continuing resistance by what seems to be an increasing number of British citizens to becoming fully integrated within Europe. Don't these people ever travel overseas? Forget statistics just for a moment, just get in your car and drive through these countries. You will find far better living standards than here, getting better as the EU matures.
Several people have commented on that the strength of the pound is making the UK's exports too expensive and that this problem would be solved by joining the euro. My point is that the pound is strong because the UK has chosen to set interest rates at a level to control inflation rather than a level to help exporters. Right or wrong, that is a choice the UK still has. Euro zone countries do not have that choice.
If Francis Maude and the Tories refuse to rule out membership of the single currency in the future but only in the lifetime of this parliament they should state exactly what their criteria would be for joining. I suspect they won't because to do so would be to expose the rifts in the party and the implausibility of us remaining inside the European Union and not a full part of the currency system in the medium to long term.
What the British public actually wants, more than the ' European Superstate' scare tactics of the Conservatives, is a rational, informed assessment of the economic implications of the euro for the British economy. Of course we would all rather keep the pound, but not at the price of an economic slump. For my generation, who haven't yet entered the workplace, this is all the more important as the economic framework established today will determine the economic conditions we face tomorrow.
Just to comment on the eurosceptic rally cry of "if it's not broke don't fix it". If we all thought like this we would all be sat in a cave huddled around in the dark thanking God that we'd not faced our fear of change!
Regarding our European influence. I didn't know we had any! The European Union is run by, and for, the benefit of the Germans and the French - you can see this at work with the debacle over the French beef ban. It only seems that the UK obeys the rules. Only when every country obeys the rules will the British trust the European Union.
What's wrong with belonging to a federalised superstate? At the beginning of the 21st century it is increasingly apparent that the nation-state is too small a political and economic unit to deal effectively with truly global concerns such as climate change, tax havens, defence against weapons of mass destruction, etc. Equally it is too large and bureaucratic a political unit to seriously improve the quality of governance within our local communities. A federalised 'umbrella' network of sub-national units seems a perfectly sensible way of reconciling the global and local interests that increasingly dominate our lives.
I feel that Robin Cook came out of tonight's programme with a lot of credibility. The European Union and the euro must remain fully negotiable and optional.
While impassioned debate is to be encouraged the childish and hysterical manner in which the anti-euro members of the audience acted served to highlight the weakness of their arguments! If they were so confident in the strength of the argument for staying out of the euro they should have been capable of conducting a debate on the cold hard facts not merely trying to drown out the pro-euro voices by sheer volume.
I think that obviously if we don't join the euro the UK will become isolated from the rest of Europe. But also we do not want to let go of our strong pound. So I do not see why the Conservatives cannot let the UK have a referendum and just make sure whether the majority of the UK is for the euro or not.
Joining the euro means further surrender of control to Brussels - without any proven benefits - and yet another step towards an unaccountable superstate - run by the same type of people as those who were so recently found corrupt, yet re-instated almost immediately. We should stay free and independent.
Much comment was made about the trade which the UK does with Europe, but nothing was mentioned about the opposite and larger trade which Europe does with the UK. It is not a one way street and should not be used to scare people into thinking the UK would lose this market by not being in the euro. France in particular would not want to lose its trade with the UK.
Has this country conveniently forgotten that at one time we were the 'sick man' of Europe, and had to go with a begging bowl to the international monetary fund? We have never been so well off, and we are lucky to be in the EEC. Join the euro, we should have been in it from the beginning.
I cannot believe the arrogance of the Conservative Party on the issue of a referendum on joining the euro. I understand that they do not want to join the euro and current polls would suggest that the electorate does not want this either but denying the people a voice for the next five years seems a ludicrous and undemocratic stance to take. What have the Conservatives got to fear from a referendum on the euro?
First I would like to say that Conrad Black's views were refreshing and interesting and the ill-informed responses to the points he raised were very saddening. I am sure he knows the position of America better than any other members of the panel, and we must respect our traditional and geographical role in the world economy as he highlighted. Secondly I think that in 2002 when the rest of Europe enters the single currency we will have a much better idea of the consequences of European integration. We are in no rush!
What I cannot understand is why there is no serious debate about joining the euro. In my opinion what is needed is a clear explanation of the economic tests, a full analysis of where we are now, a full explanation of all the consequences of joining or staying out. When all this is clear then we could think about referendums and other things.
Has anybody else noticed how unpleasant the eurosceptic crowd is? Every time anyone sympathetic to Europe or the single currency attempts to give a serious response to a question, they are rounded on by a snarling red-faced mob who try to drown out what they don't want to hear. The result is that it is impossible for people like Robin Cook to complete a sentence, or for the poor viewers to hear an answer.
Tonight's programme failed to mention the effect of the euro on small businesses. Red tape costs my dad hundreds of pounds a year in extra costs. This would be multiplied should we sign up to the euro. Keep the pound!
David Waterson, of Whistable, really needs to get his facts right. Yes, mainland Europeans pay more DIRECT tax than us, but they pay far less indirect tax (hence cheaper wine, cars, cigarettes, etc). Indirect taxes discriminate against the poor - this is one of the reasons mainland European countries have far less poverty than us.
Would it not be possible to partially join the euro, thereby enabling companies that trade mainly within the European Union to trade in euros whilst allowing companies that trade internally and elsewhere to continue to trade in pounds if they so wish, or would this be too chaotic?
The present government constantly informs us that Great Britain is in such an economically sound nation so why is there a need to sign into a federal European superstate. Shouldn`t we leave it as it is if it isn't broken don't fix it.
We are being told that the pound is too expensive and we should be better off joining the euro. My problem is how will the euro make our life cheaper? Surely the conversion rate that will be applied will mean the £1 item will cost more than elsewhere or will we find our pay packets contain less?
European monetary unions have been tried and tested before. Each time they have failed, what makes this time round any different? The euro will fail and the bigger the country the harder they will fall. I see more benefits in joining the US Dollar than the euro.
Why do europhiles keep on insisting that it is inevitable that we must join the euro and accept further integration. Does it not seem strange that in Canada there is no real serious demand to join the US dollar or move to political integration? Also why is it that if we live in a democracy, we can't vote on any further surrenders to our sovereignty, such as when the Danes and French voted on Maastricht.
I suspect that the "five economic tests" for Britain joining the euro will be fulfilled when and only when the government thinks it can win the referendum. Meanwhile millions of pounds will be spent on cajoling and scaring the British public into a yes vote. We will be told that millions of British jobs will be lost if we do not join up in spite of strong evidence to the contrary.
Is it possible for any country of the European Union to be in the union and out of the monetary union in the long run?
I have lived and worked in the EU. If we join will the government expect us to pay the 50 plus % tax that is paid in EU countries and would we then receive the same unemployment benefits as them. Before we join we should take a long hard look at the EU countries.
How are we to know that when any single party wins the next election, they won't change their stance on the euro which differs to the approach they had which won votes?
Francis Maude asks what country other than the US has experience of a successful economic and political union - what about the country he lives in? If he doesn't agree that the UK is not an example of a successful economic/political union, why do the Conservatives fight so hard to save it?
What is the point in having a referendum when one party is spouting statistics and another is completely disregarding them? How can the public make a decision if the major political parties are being vague on their opinion of Europe?
Which political party would allow a referendum to withdraw from the EU?
Audience question: In view of the continuing substantial shortcomings and indeed opposition to the EU which political party would allow a referendum to withdraw? You said:
It is interesting to see that it is often the same people who advocate withdrawal from the EU that are against having a referendum on the euro.
Withdrawing from the EU would be a stupid move, jobs and opportunities would be lost and relations between our European counterparts. However our sovereignty is important to allow the British people to choose and to react to economic and social changes.
If Britain left the EU I am almost sure Denmark, Sweden and Austria would follow us. Don't forget when France had a referendum on Maastricht it was only passed by 50.09% and that was with all the government propaganda.
Why are the foreign-owned press so anti-Europe?
Audience question: Why are the mostly foreign-owned press, despite whatever the circumstances might be, so consistently and permanently anti-European and particularly anti-Europe? You said:
The majority of the press is anti-Europe. How are the government going to ensure that the public can be given a balanced set of facts regarding the advantages and disadvantages so that they can make an informed choice in a referendum?
Hooliganism, drug and alcohol abuse, dislike of foreigners. What can this country offer the rest of Europe that would want them to have us as a member?
It is no coincidence that the foreign owned press in this country pursues an anti-European agenda. The owners are only concerned with the size of their fortunes and not the wealth of the country as a whole. They wish to achieve the largest possible circulation - it is a shame that in this country this is achieved by appealing to petty prejudices and by xenophobic scaremongering.
I think that the debate about Europe is harder than it should be for the public to understand because so much coverage is given to anti-European myths, and so little to the facts about our place in Europe.
The reason why the bulk of the British press is anti-European is because Thatcher allowed Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch to buy up a great deal of it. It is about time we return the competition laws that prevented this before the 80s.
General comments on the programme:
This is my first visit to the web site.
I would like to thank you for a very imformative and entertaining debate.
Can I thank the BBC for an entertaining evening. However as an audience member it was frustrating that David Dimbleby kept interupting the panellists and asking questions himself instead of going to the audience. After all the programme is intended for the purpose of audience asking questions.
After watching last night's programme, I am still at odds which party has a clear and defined strategy for Europe. What came across most worrying, was that Conrad Black, originally a Canadian National, had more passion and commitment to the British identity than the other panellists. I feel that no other panellist shed themselves in a shining light regarding Europe, and after listening to most of their comments, on occasions contradicted their personal and party views.
I really enjoyed your programme. I watch Question Time each week on public television. I'm able to see a number of related subjects discussed from a British point of view.
I strongly deprecate the constant interruptions from Mr Dimbleby, with, frequently, gratuitously insolent attitudes towards panellists, except, notably, towards Conrad Black, the newspaper owner. Why was such deference so openly displayed?
Would you please express my great admiration for the way Conrad Black expressed his views this evening. I thought that he was cogent, honest and forthright. If only the politicians could be.
It was refreshing to see on this week's programme a man who was actually speaking a lot of sense. Not Robin Cook (far from it), not Francis Maude (although his points are highly valid) but the highly articulate and thoughtful Conrad Black. He at least realises, as Francis Maude does, that this country is great, that the British people are proud of their sovereignty and that the euro is like everything else in Europe, complete garbage.
I really must take issue with David Dimbleby about his constant interruptions when Shirley Williams was speaking and when the foreign secretary was replying to questions. He should merely take questions, pass them to the panel and ask the audience. Anything more just puts me in a complete red-faced rage.
Conrad Black is an unknown but welcome personality expressing an excellent broad brush outline of my own opinions. I would say that in all this discussion on Europe and the superstate I am dismayed that the Royal family, who, after all represent this Great Britain (or at least should) are never brought into the equation. Forget protocol, let's hear what they think.
I felt the conduct of this evening's debate was not firm enough. There were constant interruptions from Conrad Black whenever important points were about to be raised. This seemed to be an extension of the foreign owned press's strategy of removing all logical argument and factual information from the whole euro debate.
How can there be a balanced, orderly debate when the chairman tonight showed that he was completely incapable of keeping order amongst the panellists and in the audience? Anyone making a pro-European statement had no chance! Shirley Williams and Robin Cook were continually allowed to be interrupted and heckled by the audience. All of the panellists were subjected to needless interventions by the chairman, which resulted in the regular situation where over half an hour was spent on one question.
I thought this was certainly one of the best shows ever. Europe is such a complicated issue. Francis Maude was very close to my own view.
Thank you Mr Dimbleby for a most enjoyable QT. It is refreshing to finally have an open, honest and balanced debate. Please let this be the first of many. As Shirley Williams said the government should have given us this long ago.
I am very disappointed with the quality and behaviour of a sizeable proportion of the studio audience. This used to be a very entertaining programme which is clearly being infiltrated by people with their own political agendas. Tonight I think the anti-euros were particularly rude and unwilling to listen to any view other than their own.
Please forward my sympathy to Conrad Black for the xenophobia he experienced on tonight's programme. Having lived in Montreal during the 60s and 70s (produced two Canadian sons and became bilingual) it was commonplace for me to pay for General Wolfe's victory. However, I had hoped for better from my fellow countrymen - persons - people? One lives and learns!
I was most disappointed with the lack of skill displayed by Mr Dimbleby in chairing this debate. The programme seemed badly controlled with frequent heckling, and interruptions from the chair which at times appeared biased against the government. Balance on this occasion seemed clearly to not have been maintained.
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