The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to the Association of American Correspondents – 26 September 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Association of American Correspondents in London on Thursday 26th September 1991.


Just as I left Downing Street, if Gus will pass it to me, the Foreign Office gave me an extremely interesting brief and it contained an extremely interesting speech and it is so interesting I think it should be held under the 30 year records. And if we could assemble here in Browns Hotel in 29 years I will leak it to you.

Maureen, thank you very much indeed, I am very pleased to be here. And I just want to talk to you perhaps very briefly and leave a rather longer time for questions perhaps than the 15 minutes you had in mind because my experience of your British colleagues is that they are modestly interested in what you have to say and extremely interested in how you reply to the important questions that they have about the things that you were not even prepared to mention.

So I will just speak briefly about a few matters and then we will open the floor to any questions you choose to ask.

Let me touch on several contemporary matters that I think are of importance to us here in the United Kingdom and also of importance to the United States as well. I know there is a great deal of discussion, debate, in some areas uncertainty about what is happening in the European Community and what it actually means both for the Community, for wider Europe and for the relationship with the United States as well.

So let me just try and put that into a proper context for you. The European Community has been developing for a long time, it had a very significant development when Britain joined it in the early 1970s, it developed very dramatically when Margaret Thatcher signed the Single European Act which extended qualified majority voting and extended the competence of the European Commission, and also introduce the Single Market to the European Community in the mid-1980s.

And now they are marching forward to two extremely critical inter-governmental conferences on economic and monetary union and political union towards the end of this year. There are several points to be made without touching on the detail of the treaties. The direction of Europe is for a greater degree of integration, there is no doubt about that. But much of that integration I believe is on the basis of cooperation, not compulsion, in terms of the direct responsibilities of the Commission and the difficulties of qualified majority voting.

There has been a great deal of discussion in the last few days about the new text for the political union treaty and we have very considerable reservations about much of that text, but we will go on negotiating within Europe to try and find a satisfactory agreement when we get to Maastricht in December.

And nobody should under-estimate the communal wish within the Community to get a satisfactory agreement. The European Community is a strange beast for people to observe from outside, there can be what seem to be very wide differences and magically as you actually get to the day and the time at which negotiating positions have to be shifted and decisions have to be made, it is generally the case that a solution can be reached.

I cannot promise you that in terms of Maastricht but I can say to you there is a general will around the European Community to try and reach an agreed conclusion both in the monetary union conference and the political union conference.

But I think there are some wider issues in Europe as well. The one thing that the European Community must not become in the years ahead is a rich man’s club with a girdle thrown around it, either a girdle of protectionism which it will not become though I know the concerns there are in the United States, or a girdle in another sense that it says to the rest of Europe: Here we are, the European Community, we are doing very well thank you very much and there is no room for the rest of Eastern Europe and beyond. That is not the direction that I believe the European Community will go in.

After the Second World War, Europe essentially divided into two. It divided into Western Europe, a collection of sovereign free nations, many of which combined together either in the European Community or in EFTA, the European Free Trade Association. And then East of Europe which effectively became either directly or de facto satellites of the Soviet Union. That has broken up, the whole of Eastern Europe is now in a wholly different circumstance, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and increasingly other nations as well are adopting a free market approach and have aspirations either in the short, the medium or the long term to join the Western family of nations in the European Community.

And the message that Britain will give the Community is perfectly clear. Whatever agreement we may reach at the end of the year in Maastricht, nothing in those agreements must effectively say to Eastern Europe and beyond: the opportunity of joining us in the future is not going to be there. That is why we have to complete the association agreements with Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, that is why we have to open our mind and our vision a little to seeing those Eastern European nations come in, when their economies are ready and it is many years away, into the European Community. And in saying that I would not exclude that meaning the Western republics in what up until now we have known as the Soviet Union as well and of course the Baltic States.

Much of this is ten, twenty, years maybe even longer ahead. But we have an historical opportunity of the sort that occurs once a century if you are lucky, to change the whole pattern of the way life has been in Europe for a very long time. And that is not just a political change, not just an economic change, it is a security change as well and the opportunities of bringing the great Russian republics, all of them, increasingly into the Western sphere with Western influence and Western trade patterns and diminishing the military threat that has been there for so many years is a vision that ought to enable every single western politician to lift his eyes above the short term and look at the opportunity that is actually there.

At the moment we have some other problems that concern us more on a day to day basis. What has been happening in Iraq over the past few weeks is a matter of concern. There is no doubt that the UN special commissioners have been hindered and harried, cheated and lied to by the Iraqis repeatedly over recent months.

And I just hope Iraq realises how seriously we view the fact that they still have the capacity to manufacture nuclear weapons and that they seem to be seeking to hide that capacity away from the West, notwithstanding the Security Council Resolutions. They ought not to misjudge how we view that matter. The remarks the President has made will be echoed here and echoed elsewhere I think in Europe very strongly indeed. And one way or another that nuclear capacity has got to be surrendered up and I hope the Iraqis will act accordingly and understand that. There should be not a shred of doubt in their mind about how seriously we view the way in which they are behaving, it is not acceptable and we will not accept it.

Let me say a word about one or two other subjects that I know are of concern, if only perhaps to stimulate questions. Let me talk for a moment about GATT and the Uruguay Round. We have a great blockage in GATT, agriculture has been the main blockage, immense frustration in the Cairns Group, a good deal of frustration I know in the United States and a great deal of frustration in the United Kingdom as well.

The risk of not having an agreement in the Uruguay Round is one that ought to make every single European, North American and other nation pause and think about their own domestic policies. It was for that reason that we pushed the matter so hard at the G7 Summit in London. There is a great deal to all intents and purposes already agreed in the Uruguay Round that would be a great loss to most trading nations were the Round itself not to be concluded.

Our position is quite clear. We believe we should proceed for an agreement this year on the GATT Round and that means several things. It does mean that the Europeans have to move on agriculture. It does mean that the European Community have got to be a good deal more forthcoming than thus far it has been on many of the agricultural concerns that exist in the Cairns Group and North America. It does mean also that there are aspects of American tariffs, perhaps some of the high tariffs on ceramics, perhaps even some of their agricultural protection as well, will have to be tossed in the pot of a communal agreement.

But the risk of not having an agreement, the risk that there is no agreement and countries then move to protectionism with all the distortion of trade flows that then there would be is a risk that no sensible politician ought to contemplate for a second.

It is, to put it the other way round, a huge prize if we get agriculture in the GATT agreement in this Round which is what I firmly believe we need to do and we can then build on that in the future.

The European Community is going to reform the Common Agricultural Policy but it is not going to have completed the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy within the necessary timescale for the completion of the GATT Round, it will have started it, it will be committed to it but it will not have completed it, not because it is seeking not to but because it physically would not be possible to reach the agreements that are necessary.

Nonetheless we have to move ahead as quickly as possible and it may be that a very great burden in framing the consensus for an agreement will actually fall upon Mr Dunkenis [phonetic] shoulders later on this year. But he must be given every assistance to try and produce a satisfactory agreement.

You invited me just to say a word about the special relationship. I think there is very little really to say about it. It is in remarkably good shape, it has always been in good shape. Those people from time to time who sense a peripheral short term difference between the United States and the United Kingdom are always perhaps over keen to say: “Well the situation has changed.” But over any run of years, the similarity in outlook on trading matters, on economic matters and on foreign affairs policies between the instinctive attitudes of the British and the instinctive attitudes of the United States are likely to mean that that special relationship is in very good repair indeed.

And I would like to say something of that to you from the point of view of a European. It is much better recognised in my country, and I think in the rest of Europe, that we would not have had the peace and security that we have had in Europe in the last 40 years had it not been for the enormous dramatic presence in Europe of United States troops. We would not have had that peace and it is as important in the future, even with the shrinkage and disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, it is as important in the future that the United States retains its commitment to European defence as it has been in the past. It may be that the Europeans will pay a larger proportionate role in that, that they will bear a larger proportionate share of the cost in that, both of those things would be correct but the United States presence here will be critical in the future as indeed it was in the past.

There is another aspect I think of the special relationship and that is the primacy of NATO. There is much talk about greater European defence and for the reasons I have just set out elements of that are thoroughly desirable. But the core of our defence must be the Atlantic Alliance, the NATO Alliance is the core that actually gives security to the whole of Western Europe and I see nothing in the short or medium term that will change that or should be permitted to change that.

If I can just say a word about the domestic economy. The United States have been through a recession which may well have been a bit shallower than many people expected. The United Kingdom has been through a recession which figures emerging now suggest may now be coming, as it is I think now coming to an end, and that also may turn out when we have got all the figures to have been a little shallower than many people anticipated just a few months ago.

The key point is that as the agreements mount up, as the statistics appear, it is becoming increasingly evident that the United Kingdom economy is coming out of recession. I think the OECD recognise that, the CBI recognise that, the Institute of Directors recognise that, economic commentators recognise that, the Governor of the Bank of England has spotted that, and there are one or two people who perhaps have not quite caught up with it. But out of the recession we are undoubtedly coming.

But we have to come out of it slowly and in a measured form. Because what I do not wish to see is to come out of that recession in a way that will take us over the hump and back down into a further difficulty two years down the road. That is why we need a stability of exchange rate that the Exchange Rate Mechanism will undoubtedly give us, why we need the very low inflation rate which I am now confident we are well on the way to achieving, inflation has fallen dramatically and will fall yet further, and why we need a steady sustainable growth pattern that will encourage investment right the way through the 1990s.

That is where I think we are in the economic cycle and the way in which we are coming out of the recession is very encouraging. I very much regret that we went in it but we are at least coming out of it in a way that encourages me to believe we are going to have sustainable growth in the 1990s.

I think the only other thing I just want to say generally by way of introduction is this. It is very instructive sometimes to stand back, wipe away the stereotypes and have a look at the way the world has changed over the past few years. There is one super-power now and only one super-power – the United States. We have a shrinking world and a changing world. Many parts of the world where the United States and the United Kingdom would have found ready markets and dramatic exports are now industrialising themselves, around the Pacific Rim I suppose is the most obvious but by no means the only example. And they are now providing a different range of products, they are often able to provide products much more cost effectively than the old traditional markets are able to do. And so there is an increasing trend in the established democracies towards greater technology, greater investments and differing trade patterns.

That is a very significant economic change that we have increasingly seen over recent years and because of those changing trade patterns, that greater inter-relationship, the fact that no nation increasingly, if I may use an old cliche, is an island however powerful it may be economically or militarily, that brings together the degree of cooperation there is not just in economic matters through the IMF and through the World Bank. but in political matters through the G7, through the Commonwealth, through the European Community, that inter-relationship of interests has made a significant difference in the way in which world diplomacy and politics are today conducted.

And I believe it is a source of great strength for the United States that President Bush is such a master of that particular form of diplomacy. It is difficult to imagine that the telephone could be a more effective form of diplomacy than George Bush has made it over the last few years. And it is a matter of great reassurance to all of us that he is prepared to do that as the one remaining superpower, to continue to assume the responsibility that somebody must take in a world that even today is littered with all sorts of regional conflicts where leadership of one sort or another is required.

Things will change again in the next few years, I have absolutely no doubt, but that reassurance that the United States is using its authority benevolently and is using its authority as a partner with the other members of G7 and with Europe collectively is a source of immense reassurance to those of us in Europe.

So that in a very scattergun and superficial way just touches upon I think some of the high points in the political scene that one can see at the moment. I will not sketch out the details of those. The details of economic and political union and monetary union are deeply fascinating but not wholly riveting, so I will not sketch those out. I will leave the remarks at that very general level and seek to field any questions you may have.



QUESTION (Craig Whitney, New York Times):

Prime Minister, as Chairman of the G7 until the end of the year, I wonder if you could tell us what you thought the prospects were for the usefulness of aid to the former Soviet Union so that it does not drift any more in the way it was when Mr Gorbachev came here to see you in July? Do you think they are any further along, these republics, to being able to use large amounts of aid that they are now beginning to request, how will you approach that?


I think firstly we have to determine the parameters of what we are talking about. Aid comes in different forms – food aid, other humanitarian aid, technical aid, and then what many people instinctively think of, large scale financial aid. In terms of food aid my strong guess is that at some stage in this winter, unless the Soviet Union are going to have an awful lot of people with no food, there will be a need for some form of Western humanitarian food aid. How much there will be. we do not yet have the information to know, but there is a great deal of official discussions going on at the moment to try and determine that. How far into the winter they will run short we cannot yet be certain of.

But what we are already certain of is firstly that it is overwhelmingly likely they will need some and secondly that if it is to be of any value whatsoever, we will have to arrange for a distribution system within the Soviet Union as well to make sure the aid actually gets to where it is needed. I think that food aid may well be matched by a need for medical supplies as well, though again we do not have clear information about that.

On technical aid, know-how, whether one calls that aid or whether one calls that assistance I do not know, but over the next few years they are going to need a great deal of help to move from the command economy they have had to the mixed economy that they are keen to have and that we would wish them to have. So there is going to be a great deal of assistance of that sort, all of which does not classically fall in the realms of aid as we think of it, a good deal of it is in the form of collaboration and joint ventures that would actually provide them with the advice and assistance. But I am sure there will be a need for that as well.

As for large scale financial aid. we do not yet have the information available to us to know precisely what is necessary, we do not know what their gold stocks are, we do not know to what extent they are prepared to pledge their gold stocks. we do not know what their resources might be in terms of hard currency. There are a raft of questions, you could stretch the list to the end of the room and back again that we do not yet have the answer to.

But there are several criteria when we examine that. We need to know first of all before we consider any aid of that sort whether they have a credible reform programme that they are going to put into place, and in order to provide one I have no doubt whatsoever they will need the advice and assistance of the International Monetary Fund, I do not believe they can do it without that.

And secondly, if that degree of aid is needed and the criteria for it to be provided is to be put in place, then I believe they also have to show clearly to the West that they are going to reduce, and reduce significantly the proportion of their GNP that they spend on defence matters. We will have to be realistic about that, it will have to be phased over a period of years because there are very practical problems in suddenly making huge reductions. But that they will have to make reductions and continuing reductions I think is beyond doubt if we are to look seriously at that form of aid.

QUESTION (Washington Post):

You mentioned Iraq, I am wondering if you have discussed Iraq with President Bush and how close do you believe we are, the US, Britain and the allies, to recommitting troops and to actually re-engaging in combat against Iraq? And if the Americans do commit forces do you expect that your troops would also be recommitted?


We speak regularly and we have touched upon that amongst other matters is the answer to the first part of your question. As to the second and third parts of your question, the information this morning suggests that the Iraqis are changing their position and that the UN Commissioners will be released and that the documentation they have with them will be available to the United Nations, though photocopies of the documentation will actually be left with the Iraqis. So I think the crisis that clearly you had in your mind may, I emphasise may, be failing away on the basis of information I had earlier this morning. As to the third point, you know our record, make your own judgment.

QUESTION (CBS News): [parts of question inaudible]

Apparently the future security … of Europe are going to be more internal rather than external … Yugoslavia … does NATO have a role, clearly the attempts to mediate have not been very successful thus far?


NATO is a defensive alliance, it is not an alliance that would seek to sort a problem out like Yugoslavia. Conceivably the Western European Union could, conceivably the United Nations could, the United Nations would clearly be the better of the two. For the time being, for geographical reasons, the European Community essentially has taken the lead and we must wait and see how the peace conference which reconvenes today actually develops. But I think if that were to fail and if events in Yugoslavia were to take a serious turn for the worst, I think it is to the United Nations that the problem would be most likely to go. But it is a very fluid situation there, a very fluid situation indeed.


But there is a difference between peace-keeping and peace-making, peace-keeping does not work when there is no will, is there a need for peace-making?


Who do you think is going to make the peace? In Yugoslavia I do not think anybody is seriously proposing a peace-making force, that would be a commitment of a sort that you in the United States would remember from other areas and that we would too. So I think a peace-making force is difficult. If there is to be a peace-keeping force it would have to be on the basis that people actually had a peace to keep and that there was a commitment and a will upon the combatants to see that peace kept, then I think you may have the basis upon which you can consider a peace-keeping force. But short of that I think not. For the moment it is going to be diplomatic efforts that will continue in the short-term.

QUESTION (Wall Street Journal):

If I could turn back to the domestic situation, you mention the evidence that the economy is on the turn and on the up-swing, is that now an appropriate time to begin to think about an election in this part of the year as opposed to next year? And more generally if you cannot give us an indication can you tell us how you begin to weigh the variable opinion polls, economic statistics, etc?


Well I think that is the most elegant way of asking the question that I have heard all day. And I am in some difficulty as to determine the most elegant way of not answering it, so perhaps I will just do that.


If we are to believe what we see on BBC and ITV, Britain goes into the 21st century with Britain still the most secretive society in the Western world, the Labour Party is making much of the proposed Freedom of Information Act and the Liberal Democrats want a Bill of Rights for people of this country. Mrs Thatcher once said that there would never be a Freedom of Information Act when she was Prime Minister, what is your view on these subjects to make Britain into a modern state like the rest of Europe?


I look at that pasty look of shock on Gus O’Donnell’s face at the thought that government is a nice secret house out of which nothing ever gets, if that were true I would not need him, he would be unemployed.

The truth is that the premise underlying the question, from whatever noble source it may have come from, is essentially a false premise. There are certain security matters where we believe they should be kept for security reasons very quiet. We have a more liberal regime than some, a less liberal regime than others as far as that is concerned.

Elsewhere in terms of the Freedom of Information Act we made significant changes a couple of years ago which many of our critics tend not to notice and I do not think there is any immediate need for more. As for a Bill of Rights, it may be that our critics have never heard of the Magna Carta, they may never have heard of the way in which Parliamentary democracy has moved on, they may never even have heard of Prime Minister’s Questions which I am bound to say to you is a good deal more effective than a Bill of Rights in terms of people getting their points across and getting their problems dealt with.

We have an unwritten constitution, most countries have a written constitution, we do not, ours is unwritten, it evolves on the basis of statute law and court judgments reflecting statute law. And that has always been a way of life that has protected the rights of the individual, I think most dispassionate observers would say more effectively than almost any other country in the world. And I do not see any reason to change that and I do not have any plans to change that.

What does one mean by a Bill of Rights? What rights are there that are not met in present legislation that would be covered by a Bill of Rights or by the legislation that we have in prospect? When people get to that it is actually extremely difficult for them to identify areas that do not fall in the security field that they would want covered.


[Inaudible] I think your Citizen’s Charter is something like what they are thinking of, a Bill of Rights gives people an idea of what they are entitled to by society, and correct me if I am wrong but the average person does not know what his rights are and he has to go to a lawyer to find out and a lawyer costs money. Therefore your Citizen’s Charter [Inaudible]


Yes well the Citizen’s Charter is a great change in the culture of this country, people have not actually realised what a remarkable change in its culture it is. But it is really determining that the citizen has a better position to ensure they get a good service, a fair service from state monopolies than ever they had before and quasi monopolies, private sector monopolies as well. So to that extent it gives them a much greater right of information about their children’s school records, medical records, matters of that sort, that is certainly true. But the debate about freedom of information is often conducted in this country. What people mean is not freedom of information often when they talk about it in that sense, they mean a freedom of all sorts of security information which has traditionally never been produced.


At the Economic Summit in July you said that if the Uruguay Round were to be flagging by the end of this year you would call together another G7 summit to try and head that problem off, is that still on your agenda, is that still a possibility and could such a forum be used to persuade some of the more reluctant partners that the Uruguay Round is the only way to go?


If I may put a slight gloss on that. I was reported as saying that I would call together another group of Ministers. What in practice I said was that one would need to liaise with the G7 and find out how one dealt with the matter, whether that actually means a meeting or not I do not know, I said I cannot exclude that which I think is a slightly different point. We are at the moment in touch with governments on the question of the GATT Round to express our view about how we might move ahead. That is not something that suddenly happens, one does not say on 15 November: “God there is a crisis, let us all get together”, it is a continuing piece of diplomacy, we are continually in touch with our European partners and others about the necessity, not just the desirability, the necessity of moving ahead and making sure we get a GATT agreement. There is no meeting that I have with any of my European colleagues at Heads of Government level when the GATT round is not a staple part of the agenda.


Even with Mr Mitterrand?


Of course with President Mitterrand. I had the opportunity of discussing it with him only a fortnight or so ago. I had the opportunity of discussing it with Mme Cresson on Monday of this week, so yes most certainly.




I do not think breast beating like that will help him to remove it in the way he should. I just want to repeat the point that it is perfectly clear it has to go, that is the collective view of the United Nations, they put their hand to a resolution to that effect and that resolution is going to have to be enforced. How we enforce it we will consider in the light of events as they evolve, I do not want to make dramatic statements about that. But the fact of its enforcement ought not to be in any doubt.