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British-American Relations (Europe)

4. Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): When he will meet the US Secretary of State to discuss bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and the United States with regard to Europe. [149704]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Keith Vaz): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met Secretary of State Colin Powell between 5 and 7 February during a round of visits to Washington. He discussed the whole range of British- American relations.

Mr. Fabricant: The Minister will be aware that President Chirac has said that the raison d'etre of the European rapid reaction force is to contain the United States. [Laughter.] The Minister may laugh, but that is what President Chirac said; I shall say it in French, if the Minister likes. [Hon. Members: "Go on."] It would, perhaps, be out of order to do so.

The Minister read, with some smugness, the communique issued from Washington last weekend. Is he aware that, since then, the French and Italian military attaches have said--not in their spare time, as he said, but in time paid for by their Governments--that the information given to President Bush was incorrect? If the Minister read the Nice treaty, he would find that it contains reference to an independent command structure.

Mr. Vaz indicated dissent.

Mr. Fabricant: It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to shake his head; I suspect that he has not read the Nice treaty. If he has, he will know that it identifies an independent chain of command for the European rapid reaction force, independent from NATO. That is the whole raison d'etre of the force. Does the Minister not realise that we live in a small world, and that he cannot do what the Liberals do--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Minister should now answer the question.

Mr. Vaz: Indeed, it is a small world. I have read the treaty of Nice. When the hon. Gentleman reads the treaty--a copy of which I will send him, as it was signed by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary only yesterday in Nice--he will find that defence is not mentioned in the treaty itself. The clauses and propositions concerning defence are in the annexes.

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May I clear up a further point? There are 372 million people in the European Union. The hon. Gentleman quotes a couple of defence attaches from countries that he names. I much prefer the views of the Heads of Government at Nice, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of this country. Our position on European security and defence policy has been made absolutely clear.

May I tell the hon. Gentleman whom he should thank for ensuring that defence was part of the European Union? He should thank his right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), who signed the Maastricht treaty. That was the first time that a common defence framework was mentioned in a European treaty, and we must thank the right hon. Member for Horsham for that.

I was very pleased, and the entire House should be pleased, with the communique that came out of Camp David last week. It is important that we treat these issues seriously. Throughout the process, our American allies were told what was happening. Before Nice, they were sent copies of the treaty and the annexes. After the treaty was approved at Nice, a communique from NATO was drafted by the Americans and the United Kingdom Government, among others.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): Does my hon. Friend welcome the accord at Camp David, which repudiated the isolationist policies of parties such as the Conservative Opposition and particularly of people such as the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who says that our EU partners are influenced by anti-Americanism? Is it not the case that a country such as Britain must be friends with both America and the European Union in the interests of jobs, as well as world security?

Mr. Vaz: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Opposition are so bitterly disappointed because of the success of the Camp David meeting and of the Nice treaty that they have nothing to proclaim as a result of those two events. My hon. Friend is right that we have a close and strong ally in the United States of America--as demonstrated by the meeting between President Bush and our Prime Minister--and that we are a leading player in Europe, shaping the European agenda. That is the best of both worlds.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): Last Thursday, the Foreign Secretary said on "Question Time" that the EU rapid reaction force would be "firmly anchored within NATO." One of the papers that was signed at Nice--not by a couple of military attaches, but by the Heads of Government and Heads of State to whom the Minister refers--stated that

Will the Minister tell us how that is consistent with the force being "anchored within NATO"?

Mr. Vaz: That is absolutely consistent with the force being anchored within NATO. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman does not understand the Petersberg tasks. If he looks back, he will recall that, in 1992, two members of the Government of whom he was a member,

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Sir Malcolm Rifkind and the noble Lord Hurd, signed up to the Petersberg tasks. The process began under the previous Conservative Government.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Petersberg tasks deal with certain humanitarian and crisis management issues. He also knows that NATO is the cornerstone of our transatlantic security policy. Of course, we will have to draw on the planning, resources, capabilities and assets of NATO. That remains the case. As Lord Robertson said on the "Today" programme this morning, there will be only a very small number of cases involving minor issues that European nations will have the capability to deal with themselves. That is what the right hon. Gentleman is referring to when he quotes that sentence.

Mr. Maude: It is not at all clear whether the Minister is denying that the rapid reaction force is anchored within NATO. He appears to be saying that it was never meant to be and that the Foreign Secretary was talking about something else. He certainly has not begun to explain how the Foreign Secretary's comments last Thursday are consistent with what he signed up to at Nice.

However, that is not all. We are told by President Bush that the Prime Minister assured him at the weekend that European defence

that there "would be joint command" and that

The Prime Minister used the words "within NATO", but the papers to which he signed up state:

Is not it clear that the Prime Minister's assurances to President Bush were simply not true?

Mr. Vaz: I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman starts to read the annexes in English rather than German. If he does so, he will see that they are fully consistent with what the Prime Minister said to President Bush on 23 February. They are also entirely consistent with what the Foreign Secretary said last week. Lord Robertson, who happens to be the Secretary General of NATO, said:

He is dealing with those small circumstances that are defined in the Petersberg tasks, and not with the major situations that have been described. NATO remains the cornerstone of our transatlantic defence policy.

Of course, we have to draw on the assets, planning and capabilities of NATO. That is why the Prime Minister made those remarks to President Bush and why the president is so reassured. What upsets the right hon. Gentleman is that there was agreement at Nice and that the President of the United States supports the European defence policy.

Mr. Maude: The Minister has utterly failed to explain how the phrases "anchored within NATO" and "joint command" are compatible with what the Government signed up to. On television last week, the Foreign

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Secretary claimed that he had written most of the papers himself. That is an improbable contention, but let us take his word for it. I have read out some of the words that he claims to have written, but they are inconsistent with what the Government are now saying.

Why will not the Government accept that they have signed up to a project that is deliberately designed to be autonomous from NATO and which, as our American partners have said, runs the serious risk of undermining it? The only way of wringing even a qualified approval from the United States is by misrepresenting what has been agreed. Is not the right course now to accept that that is the wrong way to achieve the desirable aim of enhancing European defence co-operation and capability, and that the right way is to return to the European Security and Defence Initiative model agreed by my right hon. Friends in 1996, which was genuinely anchored within NATO?

Mr. Vaz: I am sorry, but I shall have to invite the right hon. Gentleman to come and see me in my office, where I can properly explain these issues to him. He has been relying so totally on what has been said by the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, that he does not understand the issues. I am sad about that, but let me explain it to him for a third time. NATO remains the cornerstone of the Government's defence policy and that of Europe. Of course, the European rapid reaction force is anchored within NATO and will act only once NATO finds that it does not want to be fully engaged. That is the point.

Mr. Maude: This does not say that.

Mr. Vaz: It does say that. The right hon. Gentleman takes one sentence out of a whole set of annexes. I will use my highlighter pen and send him a copy of the document that will set the position out. That is how it is to work. It has the support of President Chirac, the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of this country. I know that it does not have the support of the right hon. Gentleman, because he simply cannot understand it.

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