PMQs: France rejoining NATO

The mood at PMQs today was subdued owing to both the killings in Northern Ireland and the recently bereaved Cameron’s return to the fray. No economic points were touched on by Clegg or Cameron, and even the incendiary subject of Binyam Mohammed’s torture allegations was discussed at speaking volume.

The mood was such that Clegg was able to ask quite a nuanced question about France’s re-entry into NATO and what possibilities for co-operation in Afghanistan it might result in. It was all so grown up that poor Tom Harris was really rather bored.

Now, you’d think that I, a PMQs cynic, would haved welcomed the calmer tempo. Actually, no. PMQs at its worst is awful, it’s true. But PMQs at its best is formal, stilted and has, if anything, even less to do with debate than the awful version. Even with the psychodrama stripped away, the event is so ceremonial that the players have absolutely no incentive to define their terms or advance an argument.

Or is it just the influence of Gordon Brown?

See what you think:

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): Following the brutal murders of Sappers Quinsey and Azimkar and Constable Carroll, and the serious injuries suffered by four others, may I say on behalf of all Liberal Democrat Members that our hearts go out to the families of the victims, though they harden against their murderers? Their violence must not and will not divide the people of Northern Ireland; instead, it will strengthen their resolve to live their lives in peace. That is the unwavering message of the dignified demonstrations taking place in Northern Ireland today.

May I also extend my personal welcome to the leader of the Conservative party on his return to Parliament, and say on behalf of all on these Benches that we sincerely hope that he and his family will be given the time and the space to cope with the terrible loss they have suffered?

I am sure the Prime Minister will agree that today’s announcement from President Sarkozy that he will reverse General de Gaulle’s legacy and rejoin NATO is hugely significant, but does he also agree that it offers an enormous opportunity for Britain, along with France, to lead European defence co-operation, which has been held back by tensions surrounding the Atlantic alliance?

The Prime Minister: I do welcome France’s announcement that at the NATO summit on 3 and 4 April, with the President of America and other people present, it will announce its return to the inner core of NATO. I believe that that is good for the defence of the world.I also believe that there are opportunities for co-operation not just between France and Britain, but between the countries of the rest of the world, in relation to nuclear disarmament.

We are at a critical point in the nuclear proliferation discussions, and we are at a particularly difficult point in relation to Iran. We have made it clear to Iran that it cannot join the international community unless it renounces nuclear weapons. However, I believe that a wider deal on nuclear arms is possible in the next few years, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will see that France, America and other members of NATO are keen to see that happen.

Mr. Clegg: I welcome the Prime Minister’s response, but my main concern is that he may still miss the full opportunity available to him. If he could commit Britain to working fully with France and others on European defence—which, frankly, we have not done before now—he would be in a stronger position to ask them to commit more money and troops to Afghanistan. Does he recognise that there is a good bargain to be had, which would be of enormous help to our overstretched service men and women for many years to come?

The Prime Minister: European defence co-operation is important. I think the hon. Gentleman will know that it exists in many areas, and particularly between Britain and France. I have talked directly to President Sarkozy about what more we can do together in Afghanistan and other places. We must also remember that we are talking about the British armed forces: the British Army, the British Navy and the British Air Force. We will defend our right to make our own decisions as well.

See what I mean?

“Look, Gordon, I’ve got a good idea about this particular issue – will you consider it?”

“I will consider any number of good ideas in related topics, especially this good idea of my own that I have had on a slightly different issue.”

“Ok, thanks, but what about my good idea that I asked  the question about?”

“I acknowledge that your idea contains concepts, objects, people and countries that exist. I have some good ideas of my own about some of these extant things too.”

How is anyone meant to work with that?

As such, I was almost relieved when Geraldine Smith followed Clegg with a question challenging her party leader about  the increasing unpopularity of the plan to privatise Royal Mail and woke a few of the brayers up.

Watch here.

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This entry was posted in Parliament and PMQs.


  • It’s Geraldine Smith

  • Andrew

    Do you know, I wouldn’t even have noticed that blunder if you hadn’t pointed it out?

  • Gordon Brown is even worse than Blair at totally failing to answer the question or sometimes even address the subject of the question at all

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