Murnaghan Interview with Owen Paterson MP, former Environment Secretary 13.12.15

Dermot Murnaghan


DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Well let’s stay with those reports that the Prime Minister is ready to row back on one of his four key demands for an EU renegotiation.  Plans to ban migrants from claiming benefits for four years have been seen as a sticking point for other European states and it’s ahead of a crucial summit in Brussels later this week.  I am joined now by the Conservative MP Owen Paterson who served as Environment Secretary until last year.  He’s in North Shropshire and a very good morning to you Mr Paterson.  The Prime Minister has been on a bit of a charm offensive hasn’t he to the Eastern European states, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland amongst them, he seems to have come away with a flea in his ear.  Do you think he is appearing as a bit of a wimp?

OWEN PATERSON: No, he’s not a wimp but it is just such a long way from what we hoped would come out of the Bloomberg speech.  We were promised a major renegotiation, a total change in relationship with our European neighbours and what actually is happening, he is like someone in a little dinghy bumping along, being towed along by an enormous great Channel ferry.  They are heading towards creating a new entity to make the eurozone work, a much more integrated political entity, almost like a new country.  We can never go there, we’ll never be in the euro, we’ll never be in Schengen and he’s bumping around the back being towed along in a dinghy and this is all froth and bubble.  I mean it really is a very small issue this, whether we pay benefits to people after three or four years or whatever, there are much bigger draws I think to this country.  Happily we have got much the fastest growing economy in Western Europe and there is a huge pull from employers here and of course the living wage will also be a pull for those living in pretty straightened circumstances in places like Bulgaria and Romania.  So this is really irrelevant, it’s a country mile away from what we were promised, these are really trivial demands.  Some of them we’re going to get anyway, talk about ever closer union well obviously we are not going to go into ever closer union because we are not going to be in this new country, this new entity so some of that he is going to get and for me it is such a disappointment, it is such a missed opportunity to have a completely totally radical renegotiation, get back to what we were promised way back in 1975.  We were sold we were joining a market, we were sold we would co-operate in all sorts of areas which we want to carry on doing – academia, science, space, whatever – but we want to make our own laws in our own parliament and what’s going to end up at the end of this negotiation as he bumps along in the back of the dinghy, they will form their new entity, their new state, they will have a new treaty in 2017 or they will have the plans for a new treaty, and we will be left in some sort of new associate status which will be trumpeted clearly as ever closer union but we’ll still be under the ECJ.  As we saw the Danes have been overruled by the ECJ, we’ll still be sending a shedload of money, what is it £173 million net every week, we’ll still be overruled in the Council like the Prime Minister has been 40 times since he’s been Prime Minister and frankly it’s a worse position almost than we are at the moment.

DM: There we are, you mentioned they are getting kicked around again.  What do you think about the Prime Minister and how he’s handling all this, his commitment to it, that his heart isn’t really in it?  I mean he ain’t no Margaret Thatcher is he?  

OWEN PATERSON:  No, well personally I don't think his heart ever really was in it.  He made the Bloomberg speech which for people like me was very encouraging but we rode miles back from that and these demands, this exchange of letters with Tusk, they weren’t really hard demands, they were just issues to be discussed and they do not represent a fundamental change, they do not allow laws to be made in our own parliament.  Migration is a huge issue for us at the moment, he, the Prime Minister has quite rightly said it is just not sustainable to carry on taking 300,000 net new migrants every year.  The strain on our public services, our health system, our transport, even a primary school near me here in North Shropshire, they’ve got 11% young children who don’t have children as a first language and there is no provision for that, no help for that primary school so of course we want to keep our borders open, we’ve got significant business here employing migrants, but we’ve got to control it, we’ve got to manage our own immigration policy and at the moment we can’t.  We’re totally hamstrung on this, it is entirely European competence and very large numbers of people are coming every day drawn by our booming economy,  I don't think by the benefit system much myself, I think that’s a bit of a side show but they will certainly be drawn by the living wage.  So this is a classic area of public policy, it is really important for every British citizen to control who comes in and out of this country and that under these arrangement, that will continue to be a European competence, we will not decide that in our own parliament.  

DM: I am just trying to get in there because we just want you to be explicit about what you actually do want.  You’re saying that even if the Prime Minister got what he was asking for – well he isn’t – that wouldn’t satisfy you anyway, is the only thing that would satisfy you this original demand, it was never actually made though but the original discussion, that the UK would ask for an emergency brake to operate every now and again on EU migration, is that the key for you?

OWEN PATERSON: No, that would be a temporary fix.  If you got in a real crisis, I mean members of the EEA, people like Norway, they do have this temporary brake but it’s only temporary and it has to be accepted by the other member states.  Don’t forget we are only one of 28 at the moment and ultimately you can see it being overruled, you can see the ECJ, the court, ultimately overruling us.  That does not grant us power to make our immigration policy in our own parliament and if you look at the previous records, the European institutions cheat and they will overrule us and they will get round it.  Some of John Major’s opt outs, they got round that by going another way so I want a fundamental change.  You ask what satisfies me, I want to go to a new trading relationship.  You’ve got the United States, China, Australia, they all trade very satisfactorily with the European Union, we could have a trading relationship.  I want the very widest cooperation on academia, on science, on security, on policing, whatever those areas are but the key point for me is to make our own laws in our own parliament …

DM: All right …  

OWEN PATERSON: … and sadly these negotiations, the demands are so trivial, we are a mile from that so I’m very clear, you want to vote leave when this referendum comes along.  

DM: All right, I just want to squeeze in a quick last question there because you mentioned the international trading arrangements, another big decision the Prime Minister is said to have fudged in the last week is the decision on the third runway at Heathrow.    

OWEN PATERSON: Well I think our aviation policy is an absolute tragedy going back the last 40 years.  We were the world hub, you go somewhere like Dubai now and they’ve built large numbers of runways, they have created a whole new industry, all that could have been with us and I’m afraid it’s a total indictment of our political system, both major parties and minor parties have gone along with this, we’ve got a key airport with only two runways running at about 98% capacity.  You’ve got Schiphol with four or five, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris are forging ahead and it is absolutely tragic that we have not got enough runway capacity.  

DM: All right, Mr Paterson, great talking to you as ever, thank you very much indeed.  Owen Paterson there in North Shropshire.