Parliament Street’s Charlotte Kude met Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond yesterday. He shared his thoughts about the general election campaign, his hopes for a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union and outlined his strategy to fight ISIL and prevent terrorist attacks on British soil.
Philip Hammond is Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. He was Secretary of State for Defence until the last reshuffle in July and previously Shadow Secretary of Work and Pensions and Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He started his career in medical equipment manufacturing and has been a Member of Parliament for Runnymede and Weybridge since 1997.
CK: From what you have seen today in Harrow and on other campaign days so far what is your feedback on the strategy adopted by the party to win the elections?
PH: “Obviously as part of the government I think what we’ve got is a great strategy, it’s a strategy we’ve agreed, it writes itself. We took over in very difficult circumstances. If we can blow our own trumpet I think we’ve done a pretty credible job in turning the country around. I think we should be proud of our track record as a party, we should be proud of the way we held our nerve when things were not going well, stuck to the path that we knew was the right path and its delivery. We should be clear that the choice is to stick with the difficult but successful route that we’ve mapped out or to go back to the bad old ways with Labour. Also, to set out a vision for the future of the country as we start to have some choices. When we were in the dire mess we were in, we didn’t really have choices. As we come out now over the next three years, getting the budget balanced, we’re going to have some choices about how we want this country to look in the future and it’s important that we have a conservative government making those key decisions which will shape the way the country goes over the next generation.”
CK: The main battleground will be in the marginal seats. What issues do you think this election will be fought on, in these marginal seats specifically?
PH: “Obviously the major national issue is going to be the economy. People are focused on the economy, people remember how bad things were just a few years ago. We’ve got the avoid people getting into the sense that somehow the problems are all behind. We’ve still got a lot of hard work to do and a Labour government would not do it. They would not complete the job that we’ve started. But there will also be, in every one of these marginal seats, lots of local issues as well, because by their very nature in marginal seats local issues come to the fore. And we have to take on the challenge of UKIP as well, by making it very clear to the people that are tempted to vote UKIP that all the things they care about most will be delivered by a Conservative government. A referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, before that a robust negotiation with our partners in the European Union, and UKIP inclined voters like everybody else know that the economy is the important challenge we’re still facing.”
CK: So do you think offering a referendum is an argument that can help us win in May?
PH: “I think that people in this country feel that they want to have their say on this issue. It is a very long time, 1975, since the British people were last asked what they think about the European Union and I think most people would agree with the strategy we’ve set up, which is to negotiate the best possible reform with the European Union that we can and then put it to the people. Let the people decide whether what we get is good enough or not.”
CK: And yourself, are you optimistic about the reforms we can get from Brussels?
PH: “I am much more optimistic than I was since I’ve been Foreign Secretary and I’ve been going around Europe talking to people. There is an acceptance across the European Union that Europe has to change. And a lot of the things that would’ve been regarded as very peculiarly British agendas just a few years ago are now in the mainstream of thinking across Europe. That Europe has to be about the economy, the single market, is the most important thing. It’s about jobs and growth. That Europe has to engage with the global economy, it can’t look inwards it has to look outwards. That European Union institutions need to be more accountable. That there needs to be more of a role for national parliaments in overseeing the way the European Union works. So now that all of those things are now very much a mainstream thinking across the EU, we should exploit that. We must get out of the mood, the mind-set, of thinking of Europe as something that is damaging to us. We are the second largest economy in Europe. We are one of the biggest, most important players in Europe. We are a major military player, we’re a major economic player, we’re a major diplomatic player, and we’re got the fastest growing economy in Europe. We can help to shape this thing; we don’t have to accept it the way it is and we don’t have to allow it to be shaped the way others want it to be. We can shape it, play a very big role in that and we should engage constructively but with a very clear view of where we want Europe to go.”
CK: Speaking about collaboration, in your capacity as Foreign Secretary you met this week with US Secretary of State John Kerry to find solutions to tackle the threat from the Islamic State. What was the outcome of that meeting?
PH: “The conference we had Thursday on ISIL was bringing together the core group of 20 countries that are most actively involved in the campaign, the ones delivering military capability or directly on the frontline. We reviewed not just our military strategy but also the other strands. How were are working to cut of ISIL’s funding, how we are working to stop the flow of foreign fighters, many of them coming from Britain; and what we’re doing to undermine ISIL’s narrative, to counter, to challenge their ideology which they are pitching to potential recruits around the world. And I think we’re pretty pleased with the progress that’s been made over the last few months. We know that there’s a lot more to do both militarily and on the others strands so we’ve worked out who’s doing what, who’s leading on which bits and we will review again.”
CK: Do you think the UK could be the next target after the events in Paris?
PH: “Definitely. We’ve always been clear about this, we know we are at risk. We know threats exist, we have been remarkably successful over the last few years in identifying them, disrupting them and in many cases arresting people who are involved in it. But we won’t get lucky everytime and that’s a fact in counter terrorism. We have to be lucky everytime, terrorists only have to be lucky once. And we should all be alert to the fact that the UK is a target as are all other countries in Europe and it’s only thanks to the brilliant work that our intelligence agencies and police do that we haven’t had a successful attack yet.”
CK: Finally, would you be happy to carry on as Foreign Secretary in case of a victory in May or is there anything you regret from your previous role as Secretary of State for Defence?
PH: “Obviously I would be delighted to carry on as Foreign Secretary, it’s a very interesting job but particularly challenging because of the European Union renegotiations. That would be a fantastically interesting period of time from summer 2015 through to the end of 2016, getting that package together in a way that can be agreed to our partners. Defence is different. Defence is a very large organisation to manage, quarter of a million people and one per cent of the UK’s land surface under the control of the Ministry of Defence. It’s a different type of operation from the Foreign Office but Britain’s diplomacy is almost second to none, we’re up there in the top countries in the world, we’re aiming to be the clear number one over the next couple of years and we’re working hard to make sure we’re in that place.”