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Ministerial Meetings

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2008

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the new Italian Foreign Minister designate, Mr. Franco Frattini, on 16 April to congratulate him on his appointment. Both my right hon. Friend and I look forward to meeting our new counterparts in the very near future.

The sight of supporters of the new right-wing nationalist Government in Italy celebrating their victory with fascist salutes and shouts of “Duce” was not exactly a good advert for Italy throughout the world. When my hon. Friend has the opportunity to meet the new Foreign Minister, will he discuss with him the importance of the Governments across Europe working together to tackle xenophobia and racism?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that all European Governments—in fact, all Governments across the world—have a responsibility to demonstrate by their actions as well as their words their revulsion at the sentiment represented by those fascists and extreme right-wing politicians. We rightly take the view, however, that the Italian Government as they are and will be constituted will, as a modern democratic European state, take that responsibility very seriously indeed.

When the Minister meets the Foreign Minister of the newly elected centre-right Administration in Italy, one of the issues that I am sure they are bound to discuss is the Lisbon treaty and its ratification. When they do meet, will the Minister confirm to his Italian counterpart that if Ireland votes no on 12 June, the British Government will respect that decision and there will be no adverse consequences for Ireland were the people of Ireland to make such a choice?

Only the hon. Gentleman could turn a question about the new Italian Government into a question about the Lisbon treaty referendum in the Republic of Ireland. [Interruption.] He takes it as a compliment, but I take it as a statement of the modern Conservative party and its Europhobia gone mad, running rampant through the middle of the party. When I am in Italy, as I hope to be next week, I will search very hard for a political party anywhere near the Italian mainstream that shares the British Conservative party’s view of Europe. As I have reflected before, there are literally dozens of conservative parties in Italy and not one of them shares his obsession with, and dislike of, all things European.

May I calm things down a bit? Clearly we must all be sensitive to the election of high officials with whom we do not agree. They might use words such as piccaninnies or xenophobic language, but they are elected, and that is it. Foreign Minister Frattini, as a former Foreign Minister, worked very constructively with this country, and as the EU Commissioner on Interior Affairs he worked constructively, sensitively and tolerantly. Italy is an important country. Its diplomatic service is first-rate. We should construct a positive relationship with Mr. Frattini. After all, the centre-right parties of Europe can only talk to this party in power; they do not talk to the rubbish over there.

Order. We should use temperate language. May I also say that one day—perhaps one day—I will get a brief supplementary question from the right hon. Gentleman?

I have always considered my right hon. Friend in the role of a conciliator, both here and elsewhere, and towards the end of his question he showed just why.

On the specific points raised, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have common cause with the Italian Government and Italy on so many big strategic interests that face our world—climate change, international terrorism, and concerted and co-ordinated work on the migration of people across the planet. We have a packed agenda of common concerns with our colleagues in Italy, and we look forward to holding that conversation in the months and years ahead.