Britain’s Foreign Policy: Foreign Secretary's interview with Sky News
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, spoke to Sky News outlining some of the Government's vision for UK foreign policy.
Kay Burley: The Foreign Secretary wants more Brits to hold top jobs in Brussels. In a speech this morning William Hague said there are not enough UK nationals in positions of power within the EU. Our Political Editor, Adam Boulton, is with William Hague at the Foreign Office right now, hello to you Adam.**
Adam Boulton (AB):** Foreign Secretary you’ve got a modern, up to date title ‘British Foreign Policy in the Networked World’ but is it fair to say summarising your new foreign policy philosophy that it’s pretty conventional Conservative; enlightened self interest and bi lateral relations with countries, less emphasis on multi lateral organisations?**
William Hague (WH):** It’s not really less emphasis on multi lateral organisations because I’m pointing out in a speech how we could actually develop more influence in the European Union for instance and how we’re working with the G20 and so on. Now all of those things are of critical importance but I’m pointing out a curious feature really of world affairs which is while those organisations are becoming more important you’ve also got to develop stronger bi lateral relations between Britain and Brazil, Britain and India, Britain and Japan, whatever the combination may be, because so much, so much that’s going on in the world isn’t controlled by those multi lateral organisations.**
AB:** You’re quite partisan in all this, I mean, you are clearly saying that the succession of Foreign Secretaries we had under the last Government failed effectively to look well after Britain’s interests.**
WH: Well I’m, they will have done lots of things that looked after Britain’s interests but I don’t think they did this and I called, four years ago I called for a cross party, long term effort to elevate Britain’s links with the Gulf states, you know a very largely growing part of the world economy, and that was never really taken up anybody in office in the last few years well now we’re in office we are going to do it. We’ve started with the United Arab Emirates today, with a, with a task force with working parties looking at how, across the board, we can intensify that bi lateral relationship. So they certainly didn’t do enough in the last Government.
AB:** You say the most important alliance is the unbreakable alliance with the United States but would it also be fair to infer from what you’re saying that the last Government you think got too close compared to its other relationships to the White House?**
WH:** No not too close, we’re very close, you know we are, I think we’re, one of the things we’ve established in this first seven weeks in office is a really close working relationship with the Obama Administration, certainly that, that’s true for Secretary Clinton and me, I think that’s true for the Prime Minister and President as well who worked together very well just now at the G8 and G20. This is not really a zero sum game, I’m not saying that Britain should do less with the United States, I’m saying we need to strengthen our networks with other countries the world as well because it’s a multi polar world. It’s not the Cold War with two poles, it’s not the 1990s with just the one Super Power where nobody could really see what else was emerging, it’s a multi polar world, a networked world and Britain needs to make the most of that.**
AB:** Do they see it the same way, did they see their alliance with Britain as their most important alliance?**
WH:** I think they do actually yes in many of the things they’ve said to us over the last few weeks yes, Britain is an indispensable partner of the United States, I think that is true. But they are also very much in agreement with this approach of using British skills and advantages in the world, of elevating our links with other parts of the world. That works for our allies as well as for us. It works for our European allies, it works for the United States because it helps them as well.**
AB:** Let’s talk about the EU. You’re, you’re not loan, known as an EU lover particularly and you refer to it as one of the groupings Britain’s in, some people have talked about Britain being at the heart of Europe, that seems a little bit dismissive.**
WH:** Well no I don’t use that rhetoric, I think it’s been over used in the past; Governments come in and say we’re going to be at the heart of Europe and then they get in to …**
AB:** It (indistinct) a bit more than that …**
WH:** … disputes so …**
AB: … didn’t it?
WH:** … I’m being a bit more realistic about that and just saying let’s extend British influence. Instead of all this high blown rhetoric from previous Governments lets actually take practical steps to increase British influence, let’s have more British people going to the jobs in the European Commission so that when they’re dreaming of directives and regulations in the first place there is a British input in to that.**
AB:** But, I mean, you mentioned the importance of the relationship with France and German for example but it would seem really though we’re on collision course. We’ve made it quite clear that we’re not going to join the Euro so long as this Government is in power and then on top of that there’s Turkey and they’ve made it quite clear that they’re not going to have Turkey as a member of the European Union.**
WH:** Well no, well that’s, you’d be exaggerating to say they’ve made that clear. Are there countries that are less keen or less sure about Turkish membership of the EU …**
AB:** Well individually Sarkozy and Merkel have both said so.**
WH:** … well they, they are still the, the Turkish negotiations are still open, can still proceed in the, in the future but yes are we more enthusiastic, are we firmer proponents of Turkish EU membership than some of the, some other countries? Yes we are but, but …**
AB:** And that is our position, that Turkey should become a full …**
WH:** … it is, it is very much …**
AB: … member with full rights?
WH:** … our position and I’ve invited the Turkish Foreign Minister to come to Britain next week to discuss not only that but our wider cooperation. We mustn’t let Turkey slip away from Europe, I think that is an important, strategic goal for Europe and for the United Kingdom so we are applying a good deal of energy to that over the next few weeks.**
AB:** I think you’re the first major Western statesman who I’ve heard say that the two state solution in Israel and Palestine, time is running out, you know, it might not happen.**
WH:** It will get harder, it will get steadily harder not easier unless we make progress imminently. It is an urgent situation and it’s one, we will do our best to help in that, the United Kingdom has nothing like the leverage of the United States in the region, I think perhaps the European nations can do more together and we will be looking at that. But is it urgent? Yes it is.**
AB:** But at the same time you feel we’ve become a bit obsessed with the Middle East?**
WH:** Well our biggest immediate problems; the Middle East peace process, the Iranian nuclear programme, the situation in Afghanistan they’re, of course, are in or around the Middle East and what I’m saying in this speech today is while making the right decisions about those things we’ve also got to lift our sights. We’ve got to be looking in foreign policy at how we increase opportunities for British people twenty, thirty years from now and that is why we need to take the approach I’ve described.**
AB:** Two final questions. Five years, British troops out of Afghanistan, that’s what the Prime Minister told me, the Foreign Secretary agrees?**
WH:** (Indistinct) the Foreign Secretary’s absolutely in line as you would expect with the Prime Minister and it’s in line with what he said before the election actually although there was a big reaction to what he said …**
AB:** (Indistinct) …**
WH:** … yes exactly but it’s only line with what he’d said before and we’ve always wanted the Afghan forces to be able to look after themselves by 2014 so it’s entirely consistent with that.**
AB:** Finally big ambitions; more ties around the world yet the Foreign Office has been squeezed, you only have to talk to a diplomat and you know how …**
AB:** … unhappy many of them are about that. DfID meanwhile is seen as being sacrosanct with a ballooning budget, I mean, to do what you want wouldn’t it make more sense for you to merge the two departments?**
WH:** Well we’re not going to do that. There’s, there’s a good case for having a separate International Development Department although we may work more closely together on some things. But this is, in this situation you have to think about all the resources available to British Governments. You know when we’re going elevate a relationship with a key country in the world you often find that different bits of the British Government are involved. So I want to use those resources more effectively and make sure that in education and culture and sport and business, diplomacy, military cooperation we’re actually bringing those things together and then I think the UK tax payer can get better results in foreign affairs for the resources that we already put in.**
AB:** Do you think we need to restore our international reputation after the experience since 09/11?**
WH:** Of course we always need to improve our reputation but it’s our economic reputation that is at the heart of all this, the foundation of successful foreign policy is a strong national economy and that is why our central task of the coalition to sort out our national finances is an indispensible part of having a good foreign policy as well.**
AB:** William Hague thank you very much indeed. **
WH:** Thank you.