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Shadow Foreign Secretary's speech, Blackpool 2007

William Hague (Conservative)

Location: Blackpool

The history of Britain, of trading energy, of naval prowess, of restless exploration and trusted finance, has made ours a country which always looks out to the rest of the world.

We are an island nation that is never insular, enjoying a unique combination of a special relationship with America, the countries of Europe, and, a group we must never forget, the nations of the Commonwealth. More than most nations, we have a sense of our responsibility to others.

All of us who visited the Falkland Islands earlier this year, 25 years after their unprovoked invasion, were reminded of what Britain stands for at its best: the right to live in peace, to self-determination, and the upholding of law in the place of tyranny. And I told the islanders what you would have expected me to say: that their right to remain British as long as they wish is as safe with the next Conservative Government as it surely was with the last one.

Our responsibilities are global: they include support for the brave people of Burma. This country should support tighter carefully-targeted measures against Burma’s despotic regime, and remind the governments of China and India to look beyond short-term economic gain. And our responsibilities include efforts to relieve the endless torment of the people of Darfur, who cannot be permitted to be forever the victims of violence from the leaders of their own country and complacency from the leaders of our world.

And, as their food dwindles and their savings become worthless, we must not let other nations forget the tragic people of Zimbabwe. Their country is a monument to the truth that although the power, even of a good government, to do good is not infinite, the power of a bad one to do harm knows no limits. We call today for African leaders to live up to their own responsibilities to deal with this catastrophe in their midst, and, for the EU systematically to turn the screw on this barbarous regime, by widening sanctions on those who profit from the plunder of their own country. We have asked our Government to ensure Mugabe is not invited to the African summit with the EU, and support the stand they have taken. Mugabe and his parasitic cronies must be in no doubt that the ruination of their own country has made them international pariahs. He still enjoys an honorary knighthood from Britain. It is time it was stripped from him.

David Cameron and I have set out a liberal conservative approach to foreign policy. Our tasks are clear: to uphold our highest values of promoting human rights, economic liberalism and political freedom, with humanitarian intervention when it is necessary and when it can be effective.

We will restore proper Cabinet government, after the sofa-style sloppiness of Labour’s Downing Street, with a real National Security Council bringing together the best brains and judgement our diplomatic and intelligence services can muster – for the endeavour of the men and women of our armed forces and our country’s safety demand nothing less.

To learn the lessons of Iraq, including a privy council inquiry into the origins and conduct of the war; but to embark on a sustained national effort to renew and deepen our ties with the many friendly Muslim nations of the Middle East, too long neglected by Labour; and to encourage our allies to be firm in standing up to the threat of terror in Afghanistan and nuclear proliferation in Iran, will be vital work for any government in the coming decade. And we must tell sometimes reluctant allies the sad truth, which previous generations learnt at a price almost beyond imagining, that unless we are prepared to be strong in the face of danger today, the world will face far greater dangers tomorrow.

Our foreign policy – strong but responsible – should guide our actions as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The maintenance of our seat there is in our national interest, and in the wider interests of the world. But now we have a Labour minister, Lord Malloch Brown, who believes our seat should be given to the EU. Under a Conservative Government Foreign Office ministers were meant to represent the views of Britain to the rest of the world, not the other way round.

Yet if this Government has its way, and the new EU Treaty, which almost every EU leader admits is in all essentials nothing less than the old, rejected EU Constitution by another name, is passed into law, in certain circumstances it will be mandated that the British seat at that table must be taken by the High Representative of the European Union. The attempt to portray this treaty as fundamentally different from the EU constitution, when 240 of the 250 provisions are exactly the same, is one of the most bare-faced and deliberate misrepresentations in the modern annals of political deceit.

The importance of it is hard to overstate: the creation of permanent President of the European Council, the appointment of an EU foreign minister in all but name, the abolition of 60 of our national vetoes, and, for the first time, provision for the abolition of almost every remaining veto without any further treaty negotiation or proper ratification by parliament.

Labour promised a referendum on the EU constitution at the last election. Without holding one on a treaty so similar, Gordon Brown has no democratic mandate to surrender the rights and powers of the people of this country. The Liberal Democrats too promised a referendum. Now, faced with the prospect, a shiver has run through them – looking in vain for a Liberal spine it could crawl up.

So, only two years after an election in which all three parties promised the voters a referendum, only the Conservative party is still true to its word. In the weeks to come we will do our utmost to explain this treaty’s significance and why its importance merits the British people’s judgement in a national referendum.

If trust in politics is to be restored, manifesto commitments must be honoured.

So let everyone be clear: a Conservative Government elected this autumn will hold a referendum on any EU treaty which emerges from the current negotiations. And I can tell you today that we will go further: the next Conservative Government will amend the 1972 European Communities Act, so that if any future government agrees any treaty that transfers further competences from Britain to the EU a national referendum before it could be ratified would be required by law.

And so, as we campaign – all of us here - for the referendum the people of our country were solemnly promised, we are fighting not only for them to have their say now but for them always to have their say; to extend their power over their own lives not just for today but permanently into the future.

Our commitment to the EU lies in our friendship with our neighbours, our belief in an open, common market, and our determination to make it a force for good in facing up to global poverty, global warming and global competition – the issues of a new world. Our hostility to more power for its commissioners and courts lies in our belief that it already has too much centralised power, and that the passing of power to ever more distant institutions feeds the disenchantment with politics which may cost our democracy dear.

We will be working for a European Union which can face up to the new challenges of global competitiveness, and what a pleasure to have allies across the continent like Dona Esperanza Aguirre and Alexandr Vondra.

We will be fighting for a European Union known less for its intrusive directives, activist judges and unwillingness to face its own people, and more for its openness to the world, its flexibility and fairness, and its consciousness that it can never replace the just claim of national government to be the linchpin of democratic consent.

There can be, then, very little that matters more than the need for a Conservative foreign policy: unceasing in our efforts to make a better world, humble and wise in our knowledge of human limitations, unmovable in our defence of Britain’s interests. It is part of the change we offer Britain: the real change our country needs.

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