7. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Greek Government’s approach to negotiations with the EU; and what assessment he has made of the implications of that approach for his policy on re-negotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU. (901000)
14. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Greek Government’s approach to negotiations with the EU; and what assessment he has made of the implications of that approach for his policy on re-negotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU. (901007)
As the Prime Minister has said, we welcome the news of a deal reached with Greece on Monday morning, but we should not underestimate the difficult process that lies ahead of reaching a final agreement. As for renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU, that process is under way. Following the June European Council, technical discussions are now taking place, ahead of a further leaders’ discussion in December.
We have spent a lot of time preparing contingency plans to help both British business interests and British tourists, should that be necessary. I can say to my hon. Friend that at the moment the reports I have are that visits by British tourists to Greece are continuing much as per normal. The Government stand ready to offer advice to any businesses in my hon. Friend’s constituency that have particular problems or concerns, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has published detailed advice on the support schemes that are available to help businesses troubled by events in Greece.
No Minister would actively look forward to a 17-hour, all-night session, but my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister demonstrated when he led the negotiations to cut the EU’s multi-annual budget that if that is what it takes to get the best deal for the United Kingdom, that is what he and the Government are prepared to do.
Should the Government not have shown a bit more solidarity with the people of Greece over recent weeks? For many of us, the attitude of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and certain European leaders has been arrogant and dismissive—even anti-democratic—but all this Government seem to have done is to discourage tourists from going to Greece. Should they not have shown more solidarity in recent weeks?
We have certainly not advised tourists against travel to Greece. I think the lesson that the right hon. Gentleman needs to take on board is that the Greek Government and the Greek people consistently said that they wished to join the euro and remain within it, and that joining that currency union means the sacrifice of a considerable amount of national sovereignty over economic policy.
Perhaps the lesson that the Minister should take is that if a little more understanding had been shown to the people and the Government of Greece in their time of extremity, they might show more understanding towards the UK Government’s position in their renegotiations. Why cannot the Government understand that many people in this country have been touched by the plight of people in Greece? Where is the empathy or solidarity from the Government? People reap what they sow, and this Government are going to reap a bitter harvest.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was present when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made his statement on Greece last week, but he made very clear both his sympathy and the long-standing friendship between this country and the people of Greece. When this Government were elected in May, the Prime Minister made an offer to the Greek Government of technical support for things such as improving the efficacy of their taxation system. That offer remains open.
I do not blame my hon. Friend for his question, but I would not think he really expects me to speculate about the outcome of negotiations—certainly not at this stage. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that he is aiming to secure reforms in Europe that are good for the prosperity and democracy of Europe as a whole and that help the United Kingdom feel comfortable with its place in Europe—and that if he cannot get those reforms, he rules nothing out.
On the minimum wage, the Minister’s party is late to the cause, but its conversion to support for our policy is nevertheless welcome.
On Greece, the agreement announced yesterday involves a third bail-out estimated to be worth €86 billion. Can the Minister confirm whether the European financial stability mechanism, which could involve £850 million of UK funds, will be used for that or for any short-term financing before the bail-out is agreed?
Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have already made it clear that there can be no question of British taxpayers being on the line for a deal to keep Greece in the euro. We have chosen not to join the eurozone: there has been a clear agreement by every one of the EU member states that we should not be liable for bail-outs of eurozone countries. It is for the eurozone countries to decide how they are going to organise the detail of the deal they struck earlier this week.