Murnaghan Interview with Owen Paterson, former Cabinet Minister

Dermot Murnaghan


DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Well the Prime Minister’s long awaited speech on immigration last week satisfied some.  He announced tough new measures aimed at immigrants from other EU countries who claim benefits in Britain but it didn’t satisfy everyone and some of David Cameron’s own party don’t think it went far enough.  There are a growing number of MPs who believe the only way for Britain to control immigration is to leave the European Union.  Well Owen Paterson is the Conservative MP for North Shropshire and until this  year was the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and he joins me now.  A very good morning to you Mr Paterson.  

OWEN PATERSON: Good morning.  

DM: Were you disappointed with element of Mr Cameron’s speech, in particular the rowing back from any sort of cap on migration from within the European Union and apparently that was after the intervention of the German Chancellor.  

OWEN PATERSON: Yes, well I think this whole episode shows the real conundrum faced.  We really have to strike a balance between keeping a flow of labour going, it is extremely important for our economy that we do have a flow of labour as laid down right back by the Treaty of Rome but it is also quite clearly impossible for a country like ours to absorb 260,000 new immigrants net every year, it is putting a terrible strain on our public services and causing real social problems so I think the Prime Minister really did strike the right balance in his speech but he has got to deliver it and this is where I think we possibly part company because he is looking to negotiate within the existing arrangements and it looks as if we have already been sat on by the Germans, who also have a huge problem with over 400,000 immigrants last year. So what I said on Monday in my speech is that this is a real pressing problem, we cannot go into long rambling negotiations with the European Union, particularly if they are not going to play ball. We have to get away from the political arrangements and the judicial arrangements because it is the ECJ which is reinterpreting our benefit rules and also it is the ECHR which is imposing a real, real pressure on dependents.  We need to get back to the original idea of free movement of labour across the market and to do that what I suggested is we should trigger Article 50 so we withdraw from the political and judicial arrangements, we would join EFTA, we’d be part of the economic area and there we get actually enhanced powers.  Countries in the economic area, the European Economic Area, have what they call safeguard measures which would allow them to bring in a cap under exceptional circumstances and that would actually enhance our position to control this.

DM: We heard that speech last week and then the Prime Minister spoke on Friday, just that narrow point if you would address that Mr Paterson, was the Prime Minister in your view wrong to consult with Angela Merkel about this given that the German view is going to be crucial in any renegotiation on this issue?

OWEN PATERSON: No, no, of course not, he’s got to talk to all our existing partners.  I mean I was in charge of the CAP negotiations, we’d never have go that through without working very closely with the Germans but my point now is that these arrangements are I think unworkable for us.  There is a clear demand by the other partners not to allow a change in movement, and don’t forget it is movement of people now after the Treaty of Lisbon and the Charter of Human Rights, it’s not just movement of labour.  So I think he is absolutely right to try to get this and I wish him the very best of luck but my point is I fear we will get into a long rambling negotiation and we won’t deliver.  This is a really pressing problem and if we actually got out of the political and the judicial arrangements, we would be in the EEA, we could bring in the safeguard measures, we could act rapidly ourselves.  

DM: But doesn’t your way forward, jumping out of the aeroplane without a parachute and if the renegotiations go right the EU throws you one, if not you just hit the ground, we’re out of the EU without a referendum anyway?  

OWEN PATERSON: Absolutely not, I would be proposing giving the British people a full choice in a general election so that they could vote for a party, hopefully the Conservative party will adopt this so they will have a clear choice to vote for a party.  We would then have a massive electoral mandate to negotiate over two years and that’s a really key point for me, we would have a tight legally binding two year period.  The other countries have a massive surplus, a 66 billion surplus, the idea that we are going to be cut loose is nonsense.  Our car trade is totally interdependent, we send components to them, finished products, they send components to us and finished products.  We would have come to an arrangement on the economics, we were always told this project don’t forget, right back in the 1970s, we were joining a market.  You go round any towns, any villages, any businesses, everybody says they approve of the market.  All I am saying is we get back to the market.  We let them get on with their euro project, they are going to have resolve these  terrible problems of the euro by forming effectively a new country which is much more cohesive.  We wish them well but we’ve come to a fork in the road, they can make their arrangements with the euro, we want to pull back and have a much more global arrangement where we would get back on the global bodies that decide regulation.  We would want to work with partners all around the world, the States, the Anglosphere and become a real global power again and on those bodies at the moment we have one twenty-eighth of a voice because the EU represents 28 counties and we would sit there in our own right.  On the question of immigration, it’s an absolute classic where the rules are really rigged against us.  We cannot argue against the ECJ, we cannot argue against the ECHR and there is no possible means of any sort of cap.

DM: Okay, Mr Paterson, we heard that speech last week and we also got the net migration figures last week and as you pointed out, they went up on both fronts in actual fact, on non-EU migrants as well.  Do you think the Prime Minister should apologise for that tens of thousands pledge?

OWEN PATERSON: No, because we are victims of our own success.  No, we have got much the fastest growing economy in Europe, it is a storming success compared to the tragedy of the eurozone and when you have wages in somewhere like Romania of one eighth of wages here, of course people are going to want to come here, particularly when we have a favourable benefits system so the question …

DM: Sorry to interrupt Mr Paterson but the question is, the Prime Minister made a pledge earlier on in this parliament about no ifs, no buts, we’ll get net migration down to the tens of thousands and as we see here, as we’ve been analysing this morning, it’s gone up.  Shouldn’t the Prime Minister apologise for making that pledge?  Nick Clegg for instance apologised for breaking his pledge on tuition fees, why shouldn’t the Prime Minister apologise for breaking this pledge?

OWEN PATERSON: Well I don't think an apology is the key question, the key question is why we have seen this tremendous increase and partly or very much it is because of our enormous success running an economy which is growing faster than anywhere else in Europe and pulling people in.  What the Prime Minister is doing is addressing the problems of topping up wages which are eight times higher than they are in Romania with benefits and that’s the right thing to do.  I think what we ought to do is crack on, make sure the measures he outlined this week can be implemented, quite a lot of them can be without a treaty change but I’m afraid when you see the pressure we are under from the Germans I fear some of the other measures will not be allowed and that’s why I will go to the route that I was talking about a few minutes ago.

DM: All right and did he do enough in the speech for those who may think like you but also think the Conservative party will never manage to change things so they are thinking about joining UKIP, we know there is talk of more of them, what are you doing to dissuade them from leaving the party?  

OWEN PATERSON: I’m completely clear, there is only one national organisation that can resolve the long term problems of the United Kingdom and that’s called the Conservative party and it is up to us to outline to those voters who are tempted to go to a protest party like UKIP that actually when the Conservative party has robust Conservative policies, this country prospers and we have to win them back by argument.  We must treat them with respect, we mustn’t be rude to them and we must outline a clear portfolio of robust Conservative policies by next May and that’s exactly why I set up my think tank about three weeks ago.   

DM: Okay, Mr Paterson, very good to talk to you, thank you very much indeed.  Owen Paterson there in beautiful, it must be said, North Shropshire at the moment.