Former UK Secretary of State Liam Fox (and future PM?) joined me to begin today’s show. He isn’t a member of David Cameron’s new cabinet, which is more than a little shocking to American conservatives who follow UK politics and national security matters, but expect to hear more, not less, from Fox as a result, including I hope regular appearances on my program:
HH: As the reverberations from last week’s elections in the United Kingdom continue to roll across the continent and across the United States, I’m pleased to welcome back to the program the Right Honorable Dr. Liam Fox, member of Parliament for Woodspring. He’s been a member of the British Parliament since 1992. He previously served as secretary of state for Defence in the first Cameron government, and I’m so pleased to welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show Dr. Fox. Great to have you, Liam Fox, welcome.
LF: Thanks, Hugh, it’s great to be back.
HH: I followed through Google alerts your relentless campaigning for the Tory Party. And were you as surprised as most of us are? The only person who wasn’t surprised was the New York Times’ John Fisher Burns. I was blown away by this result.
LF: Well, where I sit in the southwest of England, it was very clear that our coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, were going to have a catastrophic night. And I had been sending messages back to London throughout the campaign that there was a Conservative Party tsunami spreading through the southwest, and we weren’t surprised where we were. What we were surprised about was the extent to which it reached a national pitch.
HH: Now you are a Scot, and I want to talk to you about Scotland in particular as we also talk about the Cameron government going forward. But are you surprised that the Scots threw over Labour so decidedly on behalf of the Scottish National Party?
LF: Well, this was a trend that really had existed since 2011. In 2011, there were elections for the Scottish Parliament, Scottish government, and Labour had had a catastrophe at that time. And I think this was coming for some period. It was a combination of a range of factors. The first was that the Labour Party, as socialists very often do, took their voters for granted and assumed that they would be able to get their votes in perpetuity. And Scots suddenly realized that they were being taken as complete mugs by the Labour Party. The second thing was Labour started a rhetoric of anti-conservatism effectively being equated with anti-Englishness and came back to bite them. And it’s a very good example of where you create a monster. Sooner or later, it will get you.
HH: Now do you see Scottish independence as back on a referenda anytime soon? I thought the referendum last year was supposed to end that question for a generation.
LF: Well, it was supposed to, but I think the Scot Nats will be using it as a lever at every opportunity. I don’t think there’s any appetite in Scotland amongst the population in general for independence as we saw in the referendum, but that’s not going to stop the Scot Nats using the threat of it in the House of Commons. And given that we have only one Conservative MP in Scotland in the House of Commons now, and we have 50-odd Scottish Nationalists, it’s going to be the closest thing we’ve seen to the Circus Maximus for a very long time.
HH: Now Dr. Fox, other than David Cameron himself, I imagine you are the highest profile Conservative in the United Kingdom. And I am curious what you think of the Cameron government going forward, the cabinet that he’s put together, and how you will have a relationship with the Prime Minister and his government going forward.
LF: Well, it’s a different government from the one that was outgoing. Of course, it was a coalition government, and we were elected as conservatives, and most of us will expect us to govern as conservatives. And that will mean some pretty difficult decisions. We won the election primarily for economic reasons. We created a very large number of private sector jobs, cut back the private sector, brought in welfare reforms which were very popular across the country, and started to reduce our fiscal deficit. Now we’ve only gone some way on that, and we’ve got quite a lot of work still to do. But people still expected that we would continue the work we’ve started. Where the government will have problems will be in consolidating that fiscal position, in determining its defense budget going forward, which we’ll have to do within a few months, and therein lies some contentious issues. And that’s before you get to the issue of the European Union, which is of course in British politics a source of great angst cutting across party lines.
HH: Now I’m disappointed you’re not a member of this government, though given your seniority, after the Prime Minister made his continuity appointments, I thought well, I don’t see Dr. Fox going back in. But if he asked you to, for example, to lead the negotiations with the EU on changes to the treaty before the referendum occurs, would you be willing to do that? I mean, are you, do you have a working relationship with the Prime Minister?
LF: Well, that job is going to be largely done by the foreign secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so I don’t think there’s much question on it. Now where I do see myself has having a role, Hugh, in quality control on that, I want us to have a much looser relationship with Europe. The idea that foreign courts can adjudicate on British law is not something that I’m even remotely comfortable with. I believe that the British people should be the arbiters of their destiny and not judges or bureaucrats in Brussels. So this will be a fairly contentious issue, and we will have a referendum on that in 2017. So the process that we are in at the moment is that the current government is seeking to renegotiate with our European partners. The problem there is of course that are European partners are not necessarily as keen as we are on achieving such an agreement.
HH: Now I spent, because I was traveling six hours, listening to the BBC World Service on Friday, and again on Sunday. And honestly, you would have thought that Cameron had lost and the Tories had been defeated, so distraught were they with the result, and so despairing were they of the possibility of Cameron making conservatism work. But one thing that did come through was that he had to keep an eye on his Euro-skeptic wing, that he had to treat with the Conservatives. And I thought back to those days of Thatcherite party intrigue before your time. Does David Cameron have a Conservative problem within his own party?
LF: There’s always a problem with the, yeah, the Euro-skeptics, Hugh. You identified another one, which is a problem with the BBC, which makes CNN look positively balanced. And as when the polls closed, I said the one thing you can be sure of is whatever the results, the BBC will say it was really a victory for Labour.
HH: Yes, they did.
LF: And you described the trend quite effectively. I was in the Parliament, and in fact, I was government whip in John Major’s Parliament where we had the big rebellions on Europe during the Maastricht Treaties process were being ratified in the House of Commons. And I don’t think that the situation this time is really analogous, because this time, we have a referendum. So MPs who are unhappy with the negotiation or the renegotiation will have the opportunity to actually vote to leave the European Union in referendum. And I think there’s a safety valve in that that lets off steam which wasn’t possible in the Major government, and which caused, as you know, so much damage internally.
HH: One of your positions which I have had quite a lot of sympathy for is that the EU is undermining NATO, and that they are taking unto themselves roles which ought to be NATO. Is that a role for you going forward to make sure that NATO remains strong and that the British defense forces get the support they need, even in a period of continuing public sector austerity?
LF: Well, the European bureaucrats are very liable to say you know, we need a strong EU defense force. And I say, you know, the European Union has got, what, 500-odd million people. NATO has got 900-odd million people. It also has the United States, the single biggest military budget in the world, the equivalent to the eleven next biggest all combined. And how you make an EU defense pact work when five of the countries are neutral is quite beyond me. Recently, we had Juncker, the European Commission president, saying we needed to develop an EU intelligence facility. Now you know, I really do not fancy sharing Britain’s or America’s secrets with countries like Hungary or Romania. We might as well simply be handing some of that information out on the internet. So we need to understand that NATO is the cornerstone of our security, that it brings in not only the United States, but Canada and Turkey, which are strategically very important, as well as Norway, and that the EU simply couldn’t do the job. And the danger is that we get these Euro fanatics in Brussels who will end up getting money that’s due to go to NATO being squandered on projects in the European Union which merely duplicate what NATO should be doing. And the last thing we need to do with the sometimes pathetic level of spending on defense in some of our European countries is to see that money squandered and diverted any further. So I’m dead against any EU defense profile.
HH: I’m talking with Dr. Liam Fox, Member of Parliament, former secretary of state for Defence in the first Cameron government. So last question, Liam Fox, have you had a chance to talk with David Cameron since the election? Do you think you two are united in goals generally? Or as you put it, is the quality control job from the bank benches going to be a large one?
LF: Well, we’re generally aligned on most subjects. And perhaps I’d be a little bit more Euro-skeptic, and probably a bit more of a fiscal hawk, but I think it’s truly a matter of degree. But I think that Conservatives do not reduce spending on the security state to protect the welfare state. And I think that that’s going to be a very key area for public debate in the United Kingdom. And what our people call austerity, which is quite laughable almost when we’re overspending by 87 billion, which is 5.7% of our GDP, I call it living within your means. And I think that we should be challenging those on the left who take a different view to tell us just why do you think it’s morally acceptable to spend money today and leave the burden to the next generation. I think that’s actually immoral.
HH: Dr. Liam Fox, I hope you’ll come back early and often throughout the course of this great debate over the future of Europe, and the United Kingdom’s role within in, and the role of Scotland in the United Kingdom. Always a pleasure to speak with you, the Right Honorable Dr. Liam Fox, returned to his election post in Woodspring.
End of interview.