BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 24.02.02

Interview: MICHAEL ANCRAM, Shadow Foreign Secretary

condemns Government policy on Zimbabwe, Gibraltar and the future constitution of the European Union.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: But first, there's been a flurry of diplomatic activity this week. The government has agreed to sanctions against Robert Mugabe and his henchmen in Zimbabwe. The Foreign Secretary has spelled out how he thinks the ambitions of the European Union should be limited. And the row rumbles on over the future of Gibraltar and Britain's negotiations with Spain. Might there be a curious sort of link between all three? Well, if you look at the Conservative Party's approach to each of them, you may find they're remarkably similar to Labour's. What's going on here? Well, the Shadow Foreign Secretary (and deputy leader of the Conservative Party) is Michael Ancram. Good afternoon Mr Ancram. MICHAEL ANCRAM MP: Good afternoon. HUMPHRYS: Good week in a sense isn't it. I mean here we've got the government, British government and the European Union on Zimbabwe agreeing to implement precisely the sorts of sanctions that you have been suggesting that they should. There is a sort of link here isn't there. ANCRAM: Well there's a link but only in the sense that I asked for these sanctions to be at least threatened, if not imposed, three months' ago when they might have had greater effective in ensuring that there was a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. I wanted to see them imposed before voter registration took place, before the levels of intimidation which have driven people out of constituencies was allowed to happen, but you know, I suppose better late than never. But what we've got to make sure now, is that Mr Mugabe realises even at this late date, that if the elections are not free and fair, then this isn't a short two week sanction campaign, but the pressure will continue on him until something is done about his regime. HUMPHRYS: Well, we heard the opposition leader in Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai saying this morning, it should have happened, they should have happened six months' ago and the elections cannot now - cannot be free and fair given everything that's happened. Do you agree with that? ANCRAM: I think that's probably right. I mean certainly Francis Maude my predecessor was calling for these sanctions a year ago and I think it's quite extraordinary that we've had this unforgivable dithering since then, being told that these sanctions were inappropriate and then suddenly finding with three weeks to go before the election that they are imposed. But what I think is important, is if we are going to see elections which are not free and fair, if we are going to see the continued imposition of what I believe is a fascist state in that part of Southern Africa, then we have to make it absolutely clear that that is unacceptable, unacceptable within Southern Africa, unacceptable to the international community as well. I would like to see an international coalition come together now, which will make it clear to President Mugabe that his type of regime and his type of behaviour simply will not be tolerated. HUMPHRYS: So for a start, given that there's no way these elections are going to be free and fair, we should not be, Britain in particular since the rest of the Commonwealth will do what it wishes to do of course, but we should not be welcoming Robert Mugabe at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next week? ANCRAM: I think given what he's doing at the moment, I think that's absolutely right. I think he must be made to understand that if he continues with the sort of behaviour that he's been pursuing, then he is going to become an international pariah in terms of the way that other countries deal with him. The whole idea of targeted sanctions is to bring it home personally to him and personalities within his regime that you cannot dismantle democracy in the way that he's doing. You can't get rid of press freedom, you can't treat your political opponents by detaining them, by torturing them, in some cases by murdering them and get away with it. And that's the message that he must get loud and clear from every quarter now. HUMPHRYS: So, if he tries to go to that meeting and of course there's no guarantee that he will, they reckon it's about fifty/fifty, the meeting in Australia, the Heads of Government meeting, what should we do? Should we try to stop him, or if he does go, should we snub him or what? - what should we do? ANCRAM: Well, I hope if he does go that he will be firmly snubbed but this is again a test of the Commonwealth. I was very disappointed the other day that the Commonwealth decided or the CMAG decided not to... HUMPHRYS: CMAG - you'll have to explain that. ANCRAM: That's the management group within the Commonwealth, they met the other day in London and Jack Straw again, very belatedly asked them to consider expelling Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth and they decided not to do so. I was very disappointed in that, I think it gave totally the wrong message to Mr Mugabe. I would like to see the Commonwealth now showing that they have got teeth, that they are prepared to deal with the sort of behaviour that we are seeing from President Mugabe in Zimbabwe as part of the Commonwealth, that they will make it clear that he is no longer welcome at their table. HUMPHRYS: And as far as expelling him, it seems unlikely, the Commonwealth has already made it clear what it thinks about that, bearing in mind how many African members there are, it's not going to expel him. In that event, given that..well you may disagree with that, but let me just finish the question if I may, in that event, what sort of unilateral action could this country take? ANCRAM: I don't think it's a question of unilateral action. I think what we have to see now is the building of a coalition which would include obviously the United States, would include I hope, the European Union as well, ourselves and ideally also the countries around Zimbabwe in Southern Africa, to make it clear to Mr Mugabe that he cannot continue down the path that he has set himself. We are now seeing very frightening signs that he is putting his country in hock to President Gaddafi in Libya. There are all the signs that this could be an incipient rogue state which will bring all sorts of dire consequences, not just to Southern Africa but more internationally as well. The International Community has to come together now to make it quite clear that they are prepared to take action if necessary to stop this happening. HUMPHRYS: But what kind of action. I mean we are not talking here about military action, I mean obviously Washington is prepared to talk about military action with regard to other countries but you wouldn't countenance something like that would you. I mean, obviously we can withdraw recognition of Zimbabwe but what else, withdrawn recognition again, he'll probably just shrug his shoulders and say 'you know they are just colonialists, what the hell'. ANCRAM: Well, I think it's very important to remember, Zimbabwe is a land locked country, there are many things that can be done to Zimbabwe to make it realise it is dependent on its neighbours.... HUMPHRYS: Well, we did it to Ian Smith didn't we? ANCRAM: Yes, absolutely, but I mean what you need to make sure is that if you are going to use that type of action, it has to be consistent and it has to be water tight. I've talked to countries around Zimbabwe, particularly the Foreign Minister of Botswana when he was in London the other day, he made it clear to me they are very concerned by what's happening in Zimbabwe, it's effecting their economy, if there really was a breakdown of law and order in Zimbabwe then they would be flooded by refugees from Zimbabwe and so would South Africa, the Rand is under severe pressure because of what's happening. There are all the reasons there for making sure that swift action is taken, firm action is taken and that Mr Mugabe's regime is not allowed to continue in the way it is at the moment. HUMPHRYS: So there is argument then, you think for effectively blockading Zimbabwe in the way we did when it was Rhodesia and Ian Smith declared UDI? ANCRAM: I don't think we should rule anything in or anything out. What we have to do is to make sure that Mr Mugabe knows that he can no longer get away with what he's been doing. My concern over the last six months has been that we've talked tough and then done nothing. But we kept on making noises, like Tony Blair talked about not tolerating Mr Mugabe and his henchmen's behaviour last year at the Labour Party Conference. And I think we do have to make it absolutely clear that from now on we mean business, that what we say we're going to do we do, and that he can't get away with it. HUMPHRYS: I don't know whether you can still hear me alright, are you alright with that ear-piece? I'll give you just a second to try and fit it back in. ANCRAM: I think it's pretty well back in. I can hear you. HUMPHRYS: Good alright, it's always a pain when they come out. But military, you said you wouldn't rule anything in and anything out. Presumably you would rule out some sort of military intervention, or would you not? HUMPHRYS: Well, I think you have to look at all the options. It may well be in the interest of countries in Southern Africa to take action which it might be more difficult for the international community at a greater distance to take, but when you do build an international coalition the important thing, as we've learnt over the last six months, is to look at all the options, to have all the options available and to use those which are going to be most effective in achieving your objective. I heard you talking earlier about Iraq and what might happen there. Exactly the same criteria apply in that area as well as I believe apply in Zimbabwe. HUMPHRYS: Alright, let's turn from Zimbabwe to Gibraltar. Now you seem to think - your party seems to think it's outrageous that the British government should be negotiating with Gibraltar over - with Spain over a degree of sovereignty, over the issue of British sovereignty and yet you, your party actually instigated this whole process didn't you. I mean you began it, what was it called, the 1984 Brussels process. I've been reading a bit of history this morning. You can hardly whinge about it now when you set it all up! ANCRAM: I'm not whinging about the process, I'm whinging about what I believe the government is doing with the process. What concerns me at the moment is it appears that almost a deal has been done already with the Spanish government to come to an agreement to share sovereignty over the rock, and then if the people of Gibraltar vote against that, to have that agreement if you like on the shelf, hanging over the people of Gibraltar like a sword of Damocles. I believe that that is a very dangerous route to take. I think that as we learnt in Northern Ireland, if you're going to get an agreement to stick you have to make sure that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed in a proper referendum. The idea that you can have if you like, a sort of a side agreement between the ....between the Spanish government and the British government about sovereignty, I think that undermines not only the whole basis of the - what's known as the Brussels process, but also betrays the interests of people in Gibraltar who, I think we owe our loyalty to them, they've been very loyal to us in the past, we must make sure at least we play fair by them. HUMPHRYS: But do you really think that is what the government is proposing, some sort of side agreement, some sort of selling out of the people of Gibraltar? ANCRAM: It's not what I think, they've effectively admitted that they are working towards an agreement with the Spanish government and that if that agreement is not endorsed by the people of Gibraltar they will nevertheless have that there on the side to be returned to in the future if necessary. HUMPHRYS: Well...... ANCRAM: Now, I think that undermines the whole concept of a democratic and free decision being taken by the people of Gibraltar, which is what after all we promised them. HUMPHRYS: Well, let me quote you what Baroness Symons, Foreign Office Minister said, exactly the opposite of that "Anything which affects the sovereignty of the people of Gibraltar will be put to them in a referendum. I do not want to mince around with terms such as legal sovereignty or how we define it. I say that anything which affects the sovereignty will be put to them". Couldn't be more clear than that. ANCRAM: Absolutely. In terms of what is implemented, but what I do know is that if an agreement is reached between the Spanish government and the British government about sovereignty and ideas of sharing it, then that passes so, you can't undo that agreement, it's there, it will be the first time that we've conceded even in principle sovereignty over Gibraltar. That undermines the whole process, it undermines the whole concept of nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We learnt this in Northern Ireland, we did not talk about joint authority, we did not talk about shared sovereignty, because we understood that if we went down that road we would blow the process out of the water, and I think the lessons of Northern Ireland are very clear, they should be applied also in this case. HUMPHRYS: Alright. Let's look at the third of those foreign policy issues that I raised at the start of this, the European Union. We heard Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary saying this week in a speech that he is effectively - he didn't use this language of course - but looking at it he is effectively treading your path. He wants much greater subsidiarity which is of course what you want. He wants more democratic accountability which is what you want. He wants reform of Parliament, reform of the Commission, the Council of Ministers. There's nothing there that you would disagree with is there? ANCRAM: Oh yes there was because what he was doing in that speech as he always does, was that he was lurching from one side to the other. At one moment he was talking the sort of language which we might be talking in terms of a flexible Europe and a Europe of nations, the next he was talking about a written constitution, saying that the words didn't matter. Well, they do because the argument about Europe is a very simple and straight-forward one from my point of view - it's whether we build Europe from the bottom up so that the power flows from the nation states and the nation parliaments - that was the original concept.... HUMPHRYS: And that's what Jack Straw said he wants this week. ANCRAM: Not if you listen to what he said in detail and you look at what he was talking about. He was talking about, as they did when they came away from the Laeken Conference before Christmas. They were talking about Europe being developed from the top downwards. There's a great difference. If you develop something from the top downwards you begin to give the top all the powers and abilities of, if you like a government and then you begin to move into that whole area of creating a European super-state. What I want to see is a flexible Europe built from the bottom upwards. If you look at the last six months. If ever there was a need to learn from experience, we've been able to respond to what happened on the 11th September because we did not have a Europe where there was a common foreign policy and a common defence policy. If we had had that we would not have been able to respond as effectively and flexibly as we did. That's the type of Europe we need to now see continue. That was not what Jack Straw was talking about in his speech. He was once again talking about an agenda which in the end of the day leads as Schroeder himself was saying last week to what he wants to see, which is a European government and effectively a European political union. HUMPHRYS: Michael Ancram, thanks very much indeed, you can put your hand down now. Many thanks for joining us.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.