Cardiff European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:48 pm on 11th June 1998.

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Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State 5:48 pm, 11th June 1998

May I begin with one of the few points on which I agree with the Foreign Secretary? I welcome the fact that the European Council is taking place in Cardiff, in my native land, and I place on record the fact that it is taking place there largely because of the influence exerted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he was Secretary of State for Wales. Apart from that, I fear that there will not be a great deal on which I can agree with the right hon. Gentleman.

No one has ever accused the Foreign Secretary of false modesty, but the speech that we have just heard was one of insufferable complacency and self-congratulation, born more of his fantasies than of the real world. Let us now return to the real world.

A couple of weeks ago, he addressed the European Parliament. I, alas, was not present, but it was not necessary to be present to judge the impact of the speech. The very next day, Members of the European Parliament voted on a motion that congratulated the United Kingdom presidency on its achievements, a motion tabled by Labour Members of the Parliament, who form the largest group of the party of European Socialists. That party, and its allies, has an overall majority in the Parliament, so the prospects for the motion must have seemed auspicious. Yet such was the impact of the Foreign Secretary's speech that the motion was lost. The European Parliament declined to offer the UK presidency its congratulations.

The Foreign Secretary had done it again. The man who single-handedly bungled the royal visit to India, who caused grave offence during his visit to Israel and who has done more than anyone to bring the concept of ethics into disrepute had once more snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.