European Council

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:08 pm on 24th March 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair Prime Minister 1:08 pm, 24th March 2005

There certainly is a clear choice, not least on the economy, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned. I seem to remember that when he was a Minister in the last Conservative Government unemployment rose to 3 million, interest rates were at 10 per cent. for four years and there were two recessions during which people lost their jobs, their homes and their livelihoods. Yes, there is a clear choice between the right hon. and learned Gentleman's boom and bust and cuts in investment and our economic stability and investment in public services.

I shall deal with one or two of the specific issues that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raised. On climate change, it is absolutely important to meet our Kyoto targets and we will. It is correct that there has been a rise in CO 2 emissions and one way of dealing with that is the climate change levy, which his party voted against. Carbon dioxide emissions have risen because of the strength of the economy but, overall, we shall meet our Kyoto targets in a way that will probably single us out from most other countries in the world.

On the European Union and the China arms embargo, it is important in any discussion of the matter to recognise that that cannot be done without a proper code of conduct to govern any arms sales to China. It is a sensitive issue because of recent events and the European Union has made it clear that there cannot be a qualitative or quantitative increase in arms sales.

On Sudan, we are pressing for UN Security Council measures. The main thing is to ensure that the African Union mission of peacekeepers is built up to its full strength. We can introduce arms sanctions against Sudan, but the only thing that will work is to have a proper peacekeeping force there which is properly able to enforce, as well as to keep peace. Until we do that, we will not bring any hope to that troubled part of Sudan. That is also one of the important aspects of the Commission for Africa. Africa needs its own proper peacekeeping and peace-enforcing contingent, which must be of sufficient strength that it can be sent to different parts of Africa and keep warring people apart so that conflicts can be resolved and peace kept. Until that happens, situations such as that in Sudan will continue.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about a failure of our policy over the past eight years. I remind him that when we came to office we were still living with the aftermath of the beef war, which probably stands out as the epitome of a failed European policy. All he ever did in Europe, and the only position he ever adopted that anyone remembers, was to stand out against the European social chapter, and against paid holidays and decent terms and conditions for British workers—[Interruption.] He may say that people can decide for themselves, but in 18 years of government he never quite got round to doing it, did he?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman raised other points, including the rebate which, incidentally, was not mentioned at the Council, at the dinner or during the conclusions the following day. It was mentioned by the French President, as it always is, but he always gets the same response from me: no. That will continue to happen.

On the reform agenda, I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman listened to what I said. I am passionately in favour of the services directive and we must ensure that it is implemented. We have given nothing away. On the contrary, it will be debated through the legislative process. I agree that there is a big issue with the directive and the reform agenda and that there is a battle going on. There is also a battle over trade policy. What is the right thing to do? It is to get in there and ensure that we win the debates. What is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's alternative? It is to embark on a policy of renegotiating the fundamental existing terms of Britain's membership of the European Union. What will that do? I do not often agree with the spokesman of the UK Independence party but I agreed with him when he said:

"The whole policy of renegotiation is, as far as the Tories are concerned, nothing more than self-delusion—and on the British public it's just a deception".

Dominic Cummings, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's former director of strategy, said a few months ago:

"the party"— the Conservative party—

"is stuck on the question: 'what would you do if you can't get the new deal you want? . . . The current situation of spasmodic lurches without a clear view . . . is the worst of all worlds. It does not deal with UKIP, it does not change opinion, it does not improve the Conservative Party's reputation for seriousness."

I could not have put it better myself.

The Leader of the Opposition is saying that he will withdraw from the common agricultural policy, the social chapter, overseas aid, fisheries—