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 Joint Doorstep Interview with Brian Mulroney – 15 October 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s joint doorstep interview with Mr Brian Mulroney, given in Harare on Tuesday 15th October 1991.


The Prime Minister and I, we have been together for the better part of the day and we met a little earlier this evening and we are going back to a dinner meeting where we are going to be focusing on the Soviet Union and on Yugoslavia and related matters, including the Uruguay Round which is of great concern to us all.

But we spent some time a little earlier this evening discussing the Commonwealth and the importance of this conference and we will no doubt both have an opportunity to answer your questions tonight and during the course of the week.

The conference has not started yet, it starts tomorrow, we had a preliminary meeting today that dealt with the manner in which the communique or the declaration could emerge. I told our colleagues that given the choice between the draft submitted by the Commonwealth and the British draft I liked the British draft, it was shorter, crisper, to the point and it I believe will become the basis for the Commonwealth declaration that we will see emerge later on during the week.

We discussed in general terms today and in general terms because the Commonwealth conference has not started, you cannot have 8 or 9 people in a room purporting to speak on behalf of the Commonwealth, the debates will begin tomorrow. But we talked about human rights in general and in specific terms, we talked about aid, we talked about development in what was I think the Prime Minister will agree a very good exchange this morning although it was preliminary because the conference has not started.

[Mr Mulroney continued to speak in French, this portion not translated]


Brian, thank you very much indeed. I think you have set out very clearly and fairly what we have been discussing.

We have a number of areas we particularly want to touch on, some we have discussed already, others we will discuss later over dinner, but Britain and Canada are partners in the G7, we are partners in NATO and we are partners in the Commonwealth. So there are a vast range of different areas that we will wish to take one another’s mind upon.

We are certainly going to spend rather more time than we yet have discussing the GATT Round, that clearly is very important and I believe we will also spend some time later on this evening on the forthcoming NATO conference in Rome, that is a matter of considerable importance and of considerable interest to both of us.

And of course we will both review what happened today in our preliminary discussions in the high level group and preview what will happen during the rest of the Commonwealth conference.

I think the atmosphere today was extremely good. There was a great willingness, a communal willingness to cast minds forward and look at what the Commonwealth is developing into. We have had the early years of the Commonwealth, it has been there for a long time, it has matured, it is time for the Commonwealth to look at itself again, review the position and decide how it moves forward from the present position.

And that I think will be the importance of what in due course when all colleagues have looked at it will be the Harare declaration. We had a very important declaration 20 years ago in Singapore, we now need to up-date that, refresh that and point the Commonwealth to the future. And that really will be the substance of our discussions this week and also I both hope and believe the substance of the declaration we will agree this weekend.


There was a great deal of enthusiasm for sanctions against South Africa at past Commonwealth conferences, there does not seem to be the same type of enthusiasm for tying foreign aid to human rights as there has been for South Africa, I understand this was a British proposal?


I think you may not have got that entirely right. There is a very great concern about human rights, I have expressed it elsewhere, the Prime Minister has expressed it elsewhere, and that is a concern that spreads amongst the vast majority of the Commonwealth and has been expressed by them. But one has to look at precisely what our aid is geared to. It is geared firstly to help alleviate need, that is the primary purpose of the bilateral aid but we need to make sure that it is focused properly and I think it is not a question of tying aid, it is not a question of saying unless you do this, that or the other thing there will be no aid, it is a question of looking at programmes and seeking to focus aid where it will have the greatest practical effect to improve good government. And I think good government in its widest aspects, I suppose broadly we mean democratic government, accountable government, is something of great concern to the Commonwealth, it is of concern to the World Bank and of concern to others and I think that has got very much tied up in our discussions this week.


British sources have characterised the progress made on discussions on South Africa today as slow, it does seem that momentum either on reaching perhaps changes to the New Delhi accords which you would like to see, or indeed on inviting other representatives other than Nelson Mandela here does not seem to have been achieved?


I think there is a dramatically changed atmosphere as far as South Africa is concerned and that has predominantly come about of course because of what has happened inside South Africa, people have seen the pillars of apartheid be repealed. And one looks forward to the time when the constitutional conference begins, is concluded and South Africa moves on to a new non-racial future.

The climate in the Commonwealth is very much in favour of that developing as speedily as possible. I think that has been reflected in discussions, everyone knows a tremendous amount has been achieved but there is still some way to go.


We understand from British briefings that Malaysia, for instance, was not enthusiastic about the proposal to tie aid and human rights records. Is the going a little tougher than you envisaged?


There was no such proposal, there was no such reaction from Malaysia. I don’t know what you are talking about. There was no such proposal, Dan, and there was no such reaction. In the discussions this morning – I think, John, you can correct me if I might have missed something on a coffee break or something what took place was an overview provided by the Secretary-General of his own views and that was followed by a debate both on the Declaration and on specifics. Prime Minister Major and I and others intervened very vigorously. I gave, for example, an indication of what I believe to be the case, that more and more the evolution of foreign policy will see us witness the sweeping away of any totalitarian regimes and the primacy of human rights. This is what will dominate the spectrum, dominate the concerns of national governments.

Canada, like any national government, reserves the right to terminate completely any aid where it feels that that would be appropriate. We did it in the Commonwealth when Idi Amin came to power in Uganda; we have done it recently in Haiti, where we want the illegal occupation and usurpation of the Presidency of Haiti to end. I signalled to President Mitterrand in Houston in 1990 that Canada would not attend a summit of Francophone nations held in Zaire because of the human rights policies there – this was a year and a half ago. I sent word to the summit [Indistinct] a few weeks ago that we want Haiti excluded from the participation at the Summet de Chyu [phonetic] and so we express our points of view in different ways and they range from cutting off aid completely to channelling or focusing aid. For example, in some cases we go through the Red Cross to make sure that the aid gets to the people who are desperately in need without any of the aid getting into the hands of the government or the governing party in that particular country. That is the way Canada has done it over the years; I think Britain has followed similar policies, but it didn’t come up in any way, Dan, other than in the way I have described it to you.

QUESTION [in French]:

  1. MULRONEY [answer also in French]:


In your meeting tomorrow, Prime Minister, with Nelson Mandela will you be looking for increased signs of flexibility from the ANC in terms of the timing of the removal of sanctions against South Africa?


I think what perhaps may not be appreciated in the United Kingdom is how much contact I have had with Nelson Mandela and indeed with others over the last year about South African matters. It is by no means an uncommon occurrence for us to pick up the phone and talk to one another about what is going on.

I have made no secret about what I wish to see in South Africa. I wish to see the constitutional conference convened; I wish to see a conclusion; I wish to see South Africa move forward to a non-racial future.

I will be talking to Mr. Mandela about how the constitutional conference can get under way, what progress he thinks is possible, how he thinks things will develop, what the time-scale will be and generally how he thinks we can inch forward. I think it is a mistake always to suddenly imagine one dramatic event is going to move things forward almost overnight in a huge way. It has been a continuing series of events that have moved progress forward in South Africa and I will be continuing to discuss with Mr. Mandela how we see that progress continuing. It is going in the right direction. Many people would like it to go faster, many others are surprised that it has gone as fast as it has over the past two years so there is no great drama about my meeting with him tomorrow. It is a meeting; we have had several meetings; we have spoken frequently; and we just want to carry that debate a little further.


Mr. Prime Minister, can those citizens in Commonwealth countries where there are human rights abuses reasonably expect that the Commonwealth will emerge from this summit with effective measures to isolate those governments who persist in abusing human rights inside the Commonwealth?


I think that what you can reasonably expect is a very strong commitment and an endorsement of the primacy of human rights and the indispensable priority that it must be given not only in the Commonwealth but in other institutions around the world. I think you can probably expect as well that more and more governments are going to factor that in a major way into all of their foreign policy decisions including aid decisions.

As I have just indicated, there are instances where, for example, the Government of Canada has been approached in regard to a decision where we were inclined as a government to terminate all aid and we were approached by the NGOs in that country and asked specifically if we would funnel aid through them as opposed to the government, to make sure that the aid got into the hands of the needy. In our programme, for example, of immunisation, where Canada put some $25 million into a programme of immunisation, the money of course was funnelled into NGO hands, into the Red Cross, into UNICEF hands as opposed to into the hands of the government or any agent or agency of the government and I think we are going to accentuate that. I think all governments are doing that. We are going to be judicious perhaps in the manner in which these decisions are arrived at but I think that the reflection that you will find from the Commonwealth itself will be a direct and a great commitment to the primacy of human rights and individual freedoms in the intercourse among nations and particularly as members of the Commonwealth. I think you can expect that from Great Britain and from Canada.


I come from South Africa. Overall, Sir, would you be optimistic about making substantive progress on the South African issue at the Commonwealth Conference?


I don’t think the South African issue is at this Commonwealth Conference the dominant issue. It has been because people were frustrated and worried that progress was not being made. I think now there is an acknowledgement that progress is being made – I am sure South Africa will be discussed, of course it will, it is very important. The dominant issue at this Conference will actually be to determine how the Commonwealth moves forward and to agree the Harare Declaration so I am not sure quite what is meant by “progress on South Africa”. We can’t externally make progress on South Africa; the progress that we need to see towards a new constitution and a new future for South Africa has to be made within South Africa by the people who live there and I don’t think we can externally deal with that.


I mean convincing your Commonwealth colleagues on Britain’s attitude towards South Africa relating to sanctions, for instance.


I don’t think it is going to be a great issue, quite frankly, at this particular conference. There is now general agreement that people-to-people sanctions should be lifted – that is progress – and the direction in which the general thought of the Commonwealth is going is now quite clear: they are seeing progress made and they are reflecting in their own attitudes the acknowledgement that progress has been made, The European Community and others have gone a bit further than the Commonwealth and there are always going to be shades of difference but there are not great chasms of differences between us any more.