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G20 Summit

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 25th June 2012.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party 4:03 pm, 25th June 2012

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Let me start with the foreign policy issues that he raised. On the Falklands, there is support on the Opposition Benches for the absolute need to protect the principle of self-determination for the islanders, and we should always stand up for that.

On the issue of Syria, there is deep concern on all sides about the continued failure of the Annan plan to deliver a cessation of violence. Given the urgency of having an immediate end to the escalating hostilities, does the Prime Minister agree that it is now vital for the international community to unite around the need for the toughest sanctions against Syria? In his press conference after the summit, the Prime Minister said that President Putin has been explicit that he is not locked in to Assad remaining in charge in Syria, but Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov said that was not his Government’s position. Does the Prime Minister still believe this to be the case, and does he believe that there is a case for persuading Russia to take a tougher stance?

I shall now turn to the main business of the summit, the economy. The G20 last met in Cannes in November. Since then our country has gone into a double-dip recession, world growth has slowed, and the eurozone crisis has deepened. If ever there was a time for the international community to come together and act, this was it, but frankly—I think that the Prime Minister may himself really recognise this—all that we got from the summit was more of the same: drift and inaction in the face of a global crisis.

The Prime Minister claimed at his press conference afterwards that the summit had

“made important progress on the Eurozone, on the lack of global growth and on the rise of protectionism.”

That sounded familiar to me—and then I realised why. The Prime Minister had said exactly the same after the last failed summit, in Cannes in November. On global growth, the Cannes summit communiqué said

“should global economic conditions materially worsen”,

countries

“agree to take discretionary measures to support domestic demand”.

The list of the countries concerned included Germany.

Well, global conditions have worsened, most evidently in Britain, which is only one of two countries in the G20 to have gone into a double-dip recession. If that communiqué meant anything, it meant that this G20 summit should have been a coming together of the world leaders with a real plan to boost global demand, but what did we get? The Mexico communiqué is a cut-and-paste job which effectively repeats the same words that we heard at Cannes, almost word for word. Perhaps the Prime Minister will be able to tell me whether the words or the commitments of the international community have changed. As far as I can see, it is more words and no action. People will be asking—and rightly so—how much worse the economy has to get.

The tragedy, of course, is that the international community are divided, between those who want a decisive move towards growth and jobs, like President Obama and President Hollande, and those whose answer to the failure of the last two years is simply more of the same—the same austerity that is not working—like the German Chancellor and our Prime Minister. Maybe the Prime Minister will be able to tell us whether, with Britain now in a double-dip recession, he was arguing at this summit for anything different from what he argued for last November. From his statement, it certainly does not sound that way.

On the eurozone, the Prime Minister said:

“These are significant agreements; now the Eurozone countries need to get on and implement them.”

But is not the reality that there is no agreement on the main issues of substance—how to recapitalise European banks, how the European Central Bank can stand behind member countries, and how to prevent the escalation of problems in the bond markets? It is more of the same—more kicking the can down the road—and there is no plan for growth in Europe either.

Of course the Prime Minister cannot be part of the solution, but he is part of the problem. No wonder he was looking for something else to talk about during the summit, and of course he found it, although, strangely, it was omitted from his statement—the tax affairs of Jimmy Carr. On Wednesday he could not have been clearer: Jimmy Carr was “morally wrong”. On what he called the “Gary Barlow situation”, he said—I am not making this up, I promise, Mr Speaker

“As soon as I get in front of a computer I will have a look at it.”

On Thursday, the now-familiar sound of screeching tyres could be heard. The U-turn was well and truly under way. The Prime Minister said:

“I am not going to give a running commentary on different people’s tax affairs. I don’t think that would be right.”

[Interruption.] Members ask about the G20. Tax avoidance is certainly an issue at the G20 summit.

Later, when the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman was asked whether he had had a chance to catch up with the “Gary Barlow situation”, she said:

“He has been very busy.”

By Sunday, even the Prime Minister was saying “I think I’ve said enough.” That is certainly true.

There is one important lesson to be learnt from the last week. In the midst of an economic hurricane, this global summit should have produced action, not words. The reality is that this is a Prime Minister who has come back from the summit with nothing for Britain: nothing to turn around a double-dip recession, nothing to help Britain’s families, nothing to ensure growth in the world economy. No wonder he wanted to spend the summit talking about Jimmy Carr.