Archive

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1979 Jun 5 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

Off the record press briefing after meeting French President (Giscard d’Estaing)

Document type: archive
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: British Embassy, Paris
Source: Thatcher Archive
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: The briefing was scheduled to take place between 1500 and 1530. Lord Carrington also took part. BBC indexes show that Michael Cole put a question to MT in an interview which does not survive. A brief extract from MT's remarks was published in Nicholas Henderson's Mandarin , p.271. This item was misclassified as a missing public statement on the Oxford CD-ROM. The text was released to the Margaret Thatcher Foundation by the FCO on 26 Nov 2003, in the form of a diplomatic telegram sent from Paris to London at 1745 GMT 5 June 1979.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2259 words
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economy (general discussions), European elections, Monetary policy, Energy, Taxation, European Union (general), Economic, monetary & political union, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU)
[end p1]

PM

It is a background, non-attributable briefing, off the record. Agreed?

Journalists

(General agreement.)

PM

Anyone not agreed? That is my native caution.

Shall I just start off by saying that there are several aspects. Yes, it is the first visit overseas that I have done since being Prime Minister. Chancellor Schmidt was the first overseas statesman to visit us for talks. There are several aspects of the visit. The first is to have improving British/French bilateral relations not only between myself and the President at the top but with ministers and at all working levels. As you know, the regular talks on the bilateral time-table come up in the autumn of this year, and will be held in London. So one stressed one’s belief in that, on the bilateral basis. The second thing is we did make it perfectly clear that it is my party that is the party which is committed to the European ideal, which we made very clear throughout the whole election campaign, believing that it is not only best for Europe but is best for Britain to be right in and an active member of the partnership.

Now, it does not mean that we don't fight our corner: of course we fight our corner on things which are of special importance and significance to Britain and the budget is one of them. And the budget will become particularly acute next year as we go to the end of the transitional period and therefore we have problems now they will be worse next year and therefore one will go on trying to secure, trying to have the budget problem as it affects Britain looked at. There are other aspects to the European dimension. Energy affects us all. I believe that we discussed energy in the context both of Britain and of the Tokyo Conference where I believe it is going to be one of the main items on the agenda.

Of course France has very considerable interests in Africa which she handles very well and therefore [end p2] we also discussed some of our problems in Africa and we had a word about Rhodesia. On the Vietnamese refugees – France has been very active in taking them for a long time but agrees with us that it must be dealt with on an international basis. We had a quick word about defence matters where France has her independent nuclear deterrent and so do we. I think I have covered most of the things.

Stephen Jessel, BBC

Prime Minister, you are going to Tricastin this afternoon. Is there any significance in your going there?

PM

No particular significance in the choice. I am going there at my request. I remember being very impressed last time I was here with the French nuclear programme. Quite a long time ago they took a decision, I think earlier than most other European countries, that because they had no natural fuel resources of any kind, neither coal, nor oil, nor gas to any significant degree they would need to go nuclear on a very substantial basis. That programme as you know is very well under way and I thought that it would be instructive for me to look at it. As you know we have two AGRs on order ourselves and there is a certain amount of debate about the future nuclear programme beyond that. We are going to go into a period when we shall only I believe be able to sustain and improve the standard of living which we want to have by having more nuclear energy than we have now.

Robert Mauthner, The Guardian

Transcription error: Mauthner worked for the Financial Times

Given the fact that France and Britain are members of two different systems, EURODIF and URENCO, do you see any possibility of cooperation between the two in the future?

PM

Peter, would you like to take that one?

Lord Carrington

Well, at the moment no I don't. But I think that in the long-term it might be so.

PM

I am sorry, what did you reply?

Lord Carrington

I said that in the short-term I didn't think it was very possible. Is that right, Ambassador?

HMA

That is right. [end p3]

Ian Murray, The Times

You said at the beginning that you came here in the context of improving British/French bilateral relations. Why did they need improving and, as a corollary to that, did you talk about the E.M.S.?

PM

If they don't need improving we merely came here to keep them good. If they do need improving, we came here to improve them. Did we talk about what?

Ian Murray, The Times

The E.M.S.

PM

Inevitably that is part of what we discussed in the European context. As you know at a public press conference at home after Chancellor Schmidt’s visit we said that we would be considering our position on the E.M.S. and perhaps have something to say at the September meeting. That does not mean that we shall be ready to join at the September meeting. It means that we shall be ready to announce a considered view.

Journalist

In Sir Nicholas Henderson’s valedictory despatch he used the phrase that President Giscard was only worried about Britain when there was a summit coming up. Did you find that there was a better relationship than that in your conversation today?

[Editorial note: Sir Nicholas Henderson's valedictory despatch as British Ambassador to Paris was leaked to the press and published in The Economist on 2 June 1979.]

PM

I found that there was an excellent relation in our conversations today and a great willingness to have very good working relationships between France and Britain.

David Lawday, The Economist

Sir Nicholas Henderson also said that he felt Giscard showed little interest in Britain. Do you share that view?

PM

That despatch was written …   .?

Lord Carrington

Before the elections.

PM

I was about to say that but my [inaudible]

I must say that I found it a very, very interesting despatch. If I might say so, some of the things which Lord CarringtonPeter and I have been saying with my less panache and much less style were said in that. As you gentlemen know, it is not only what is said but who says it [end p4] that gives things some particular significance. One could not quarrel with that analysis I'm afraid. It’s all written there in the figures. What I am determined to do is to get the position turned. That after all is why, I believe, we were elected at the general election. I certainly found maximum possible interest with everyone we saw in getting good close regular friendly contacts between France and Britain and I cannot emphasise that too strongly.

Ann Sington, Daily Telegraph

Did you have interpretation or if not which language did you speak?

PM

I am not a French speaker. I might make some terrible mistakes if I tried to use my very elementary French so I am afraid I did speak in English.

Journalist

And President Giscard?

PM

His English is superb.

Stephen Jessel, BBC

Is there any significance in the timing of this visit? That is to say, this week both France and Britain and everybody else vote in the elections on different days. It strikes a few people as odd in this rather busy European week that this meeting should take place.

PM

Well, I have to do as much as I can in the Parliamentary recess. Insofar as we have summits, official summits that are arranged while the House is sitting, of course I attend those while the House is sitting, I shall be attending Tokyo while the House is sitting, Strasbourg while the House is sitting. But the ones which are not fixed in the time-table we obviously try to carry out when the House is in recess insofar as we are going overseas. This was the very first opportunity I have had to travel overseas. Strasbourg is coming up in about three weeks from now, we are already into June and therefore it is obviously very valuable for me to have had a chance to speak to the President because he is of course also President of the European Council.

Robert Mauthner, Financial Times

You said you spoke about defence problems with Giscard. Was there any suggestion in your conversations that there might be some scope for further cooperation in the nuclear field? Nuclear defence? [end p5]

PM

Well, France has her own independent deterrent and we have ours and I think she wishes to keep her own independent and we have ours. [sic] The correct answer is that we didn't get into that much detail on that particular problem.

Ann Sington, Sunday Telegraph

What about the American bonus on oil purchases. Did that arise?

PM

We didn't discuss that in detail. We are all determined that we should do as much as we can to conserve energy and to be pretty economical in its use. Because that is the way to take the pressure off the demand at a time when the supply is down. As you know the pricing of these things is always marginal.

Paul Webster, The Guardian

I am sorry, but you seem to have given us a kind of shopping list of topics.

PM

You didn't want that?

Paul Webster, The Guardian

Yes but did there seem to be one point more emphasised than another?

PM

I am always very even handed and fair and cautious in my judgments. Which dominated? The bilateral and European ones because Strasbourg is coming up. And Tokyo hot on its heels. But we had quite a time. We went in there at about 11.10am. So we had quite a time to discuss a lot of things.

Unknown journalist

Did you discuss possible SALT 3 with them?

PM

In passing, yes, but as we have not yet got the full text of SALT 2 it seems a little bit early to go into details of SALT 3.

Unknown journalist

The French have a great deal of reservations about the as you know.

PM

Well we have not taken up a particular line about SALT 3 nor do I think we can possibly at this stage. We are all aware of the next problems which have to be tackled and all very much aware of the SS20. [end p6]

Unknown journalist

Was that discussed?

PM

I am not going into detail. We did not discuss SALT 3 in detail nor can we for SALT 2 when neither have the full text. Both of us know a certain amount of the text as they affect our countries.

Michael Brown, Daily Express

Did you have the feeling that the President now expected a new attitude from Britain to the Common Market?

PM

I hope so.

Michael Brown, Daily Express

Did he put that feeling to you?

PM

I put that feeling to him in no uncertain way and so I hope I did convey just that.

David Lawday, The Economist

The French normally when they are talking about this relationship come up with phrases like “Britain is lacking in vision”. How did you reassure Giscard on the point that Britain might have vision?

PM

That was what I was elected to give. With a little resolve perhaps … we cannot in the middle of Paris refight the British election over again. Well we could have done, but we didn't. But obviously my views, my economic views, are very well known. We have to turn Britain round from being a wealth distributing country to being a wealth creating country. For years the emphasis has been on wealth distribution and we really just have not got stick into the problems of wealth creation. Hence the basic reason for the decline compared with our European neighbours. It does mean a different attitude towards taxation. I won't explain to you any further on that you will be hearing a good deal more by this time next week. No. You won't have heard about it by this time next week but after a few more hours you will. Of course it’s the budget next week. I am there to turn around the economy of Britain so I hope we shall have more influence in the world because after all this was part of the subject of Sir Nicholas Henderson’s last despatch. If you are a declining country, you just don't carry the clout that a successful country does. [end p7]

Paul Webster, The Guardian

Is that more or less what you told Monsieur Giscard?

PM

Did it have that essential ring of truth about it? This is why I hope people will take a different view of Britain now, that they will give us a chance to turn Britain round and like most other governments we shall have to be judged by our results. There are basically two things. First my job is to turn Britain round economically towards a freer economy, a wealth creating economy, an incentive economy, an economy that embraces new technology, produces jobs, from the one which has been a wealth distributing economy, concentrating on keeping old jobs, old industries without creating the new. The other turn round is in our attitude to Europe, which is a fair amount from the attitude of the last government to the attitude of this one.