UK 'must help forge strong European foreign policy'

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Indy Politics

Britain must take a lead in developing a strong European foreign policy if it is to retain its influence around the world, Foreign Secretary David Miliband warned today.

The UK would lose out internationally if it tried to oppose the EU foreign policy on the grounds of "hubris, nostalgia or xenophobia", Mr Miliband said.

Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, he attacked the Conservative opposition to the Lisbon Treaty - which creates an EU foreign minister and diplomatic service - as a "deception".

"It is very strongly in the British national interest for the European Union to develop a strong foreign policy," he said.

"To be frightened of European foreign policy is blinkered, fatalistic and wrong. Britain should embrace it, shape it and lead European foreign policy."

Mr Miliband warned that without an effective European foreign policy Britain and the EU would increasingly become an irrelevance in a world dominated by Washington and Beijing.

"The choice for Europe is simple - get our act together and make the European Union a leader on the world stage or become spectators in a G2 world shaped by the United States and China," he said.

"I think the choice for Britain is also simply stated. We can lead a strong European foreign policy or, lost in hubris nostalgia or xenophobia, watch our influence in the world wane."

Mr Miliband also warned that an unsuccessful attempt by a Conservative government to renegotiate elements of the EU in the wake of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty could simply lead to demands for Britain to leave Europe altogether.

"The truth is that there is a deception here at the heart of policy - a deception of the country that you can hate Europe as it exists today and remain central to European policy making," he said.

"In fact a failed attempt to renegotiate aspects of the EU that the Conservative party does not like would inevitably lead to more calls for Britain to leave the EU."

Mr Miliband said later that Tony Blair was waiting to see what kind of president the European Council wanted, suggesting he would want to be a "strategic leader" of Europe in the world.

The Foreign Secretary also described the former prime minister as "the leading candidate" for the job.

Earlier, Downing Street said Gordon Brown would support Mr Blair for the job, if he became a candidate.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's The World At One whether he and Mr Blair had discussed the position, Mr Miliband said: "I think that he, like me, is waiting to see what kind of person Europe wants, because the choice is not primarily his, the choice is for Europe.

"Does it want someone who is just going to tick off the items on the agenda?

"Or does it want someone who is going to be a persuasive advocate, a coalition-builder, a strategic leader of Europe's relationships around the world?

"I think it's very strongly in Britain's interests that we have the latter kind of person.

"As it happens, the leading candidate is a retired British prime minister and any European country except this one would be delighted if one of its former prime ministers was being touted for this job."

Speaking to journalists earlier, Mr Brown's spokesman said: "If the role is created and if Tony Blair wishes to be a candidate then the Prime Minister and Government would be completely supportive."

Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will be meeting their EU counterparts at the European Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The formal agenda is not thought to include consideration of the new leadership jobs but there are bound to be discussions on the sidelines of the gathering.

A further one-day summit to discuss the issue is likely to take place at a later date.