17:21 Friday 18th November 2011
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
CHRIS MANN: David Cameron insists Britain and Germany are still good friends, despite their differences over the crisis in the Eurozone. The Prime Minister’s been meeting Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, where the two leaders failed to agree on the best way of funding the bail-out of debt-plagued European countries. Germany also wants to impose a tax on share and currency trading across the European Union, but this is opposed by Britain. So, summit or showdown? Richard Howitt is the Labour Euro MP for the East of England, and earlier I put it to him that either way, it’s a big mess. (TAPE)
RICHARD HOWITT: Europe is in a very difficult situation. But don’t forget that this all started with the banks, not with Europe, and that still, economies like Germany and France are doing better in terms of employment, in terms of growth, than Britain. Debt levels in the Eurozone are less than they are in America or Japan. Yes there are particular problems in Europe, but this is a world-wide economic problem, that has hit all of us, including of course us in Britain.
CHRIS MANN: Is this a summit between Britain and Germany, or a struggle for power between Britain and Germany? Because that’s how it’s being portrayed in the media.
RICHARD HOWITT: I think there’s a real danger, when I see what David Cameron’s doing today, that it’s going to look to not just Germany but other European countries, like Britain standing on the outside lecturing them about what they should do, and then not prepared to do some of the things that we should do as well. And of course, if that is the outcome, they’re not going to listen. And so, for example, for us to say to them, this is what you should be doing about the European Central Bank, knowing that actually, if the bank ends up paying more money out, it will be taxpayers in Germany France and Spain that pay, not from Britain, of course that’s not going to be a very welcome message.
CHRIS MANN: But you know full well, the public opinion in Britain will not allow more than absolutely has to be spent, to be spent there. People don’t want to get more involved, do they?
RICHARD HOWITT: I fully accept that, which is why, when David Cameron went to the G20 summit of all the world leaders, and agreed to an extra £24 billion of British taxpayers’ money to be given to the IMF, which he knows and we know is then to be recycled towards the Eurozone, I don’t think that our Government in Britain is being honest about the fact that they are putting their hand in their pocket, and at the same time here in Cambridgeshire when we’re seeing many of our public services being cut back, they have said that the money is available to do this. So I think they say one thing and they do another.
CHRIS MANN: A lot of people would say that the Labour Party was one of those that got us into this mess. People like Neil Kinnock were so gung-ho in favour of Europe, and even took a job there, along with his wife.
RICHARD HOWITT: (LAUGHS)
CHRIS MANN: Shouldn’t you all have seen it coming, before everybody else did?
RICHARD HOWITT: Well it’s nice of you to go back into history. Why don’t we go back as far as Clement Atlee, or Ramsey MacDonald?
CHRIS MANN: Well it’s not that long ago, is it?
RICHARD HOWITT: I think Neil Kinnock left being Leader of the Labour Party in 1992, the best part of 20 years ago. But it was a serious point ..
CHRIS MANN: But then he went to Europe, as you know.
RICHARD HOWITT: No, you make a serious point. Britain, before Lehman Brothers went down, before the credit crunch, had lower debt levels than all of the other major countries, America, Italy, Spain, France, and that’s why the attempt to pin the blame on Labour rather than on the banks falls rather fallow. What I would say about today is they call it a financial transactions tax, which sounds very boring. But what it means is that when people change money on the exchange markets, or buy shares, a very little bit of it, 0.05% of it, would actually go in tax, to raise money. Now Labour feels, and I feel, very strongly, as a campaigner with Oxfam and the other campaigning organisations that are behind this, that it’s the right thing to do, for the banks to pay a little more, at a time when all the rest of us, and all the people that I represent in Cambridgeshire, are suffering so much. And so for David Cameron to try and say to Germany today, we don’t want this tax, which is a tax not on the City of London, it’s a tax on every financial transaction in Europe. I think that he’s wrong, and actually she’s right.
CHRIS MANN: But doesn’t he have to protect British interests? We’ve already paid out enough, more than most people have, as you know. We’re a net contributor. Isn’t there a point where Britain has to say for its own self-interest, we’re not giving any more money. We’re not contributing any more. It’s time for other people to feel the pain.
RICHARD HOWITT: Well it isn’t just David Cameron has to speak for British interests. I do. I’m the locally elected European Member of Parliament. And everyone listening should understand that when I speak and act, then that is first and foremost always in my mind. But I don’t think that backing the privileges of the City of London, saying that they can carry on with business as usual, at a time when everyone else is paying .. Many people locally are paying with their jobs. Many people are paying locally, finding that their wages are going down or being constrained. Now I think the banks should pay a bit more. And Europe is at the forefront of trying to say that they should pay a bit more in taxation. And to be honest, if we raise money through this new Robin Hood tax as it’s been coined, that will actually mean that we can pay less to Europe, and the British taxpayers will get a better deal. So for heaven’s sake, I don’t know why David Cameron is against it.
CHRIS MANN: And just briefly, have we anything to fear from Germany having more influence, if it helps solve the European problem?
RICHARD HOWITT: No. I’m someone whose mother served in the WVS during the Second World War, my father in the RAF. And I know they’re neither of them with us today. But they would be proud that I now work with colleagues and friends who are Germans, and that the threat from Germany was from Naziism and from political ideas, fascism, that sadly remain in parts if the world today, but which we defeated in the Second World War. And for people to say that we should be fighting Germany today, as sadly some Conservative Eurosceptics do, as if Hitler was still in control, is frankly very offensive to Germany. It’s offensive to Europe. And it’s time for people to move on. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: Richard Howitt, Euro MP for the East of England.