Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Government faces two ways at once on Georgia

Nick Brown, the government's Deputy Chief Whip wrote an article attacking David Cameron in the Guardian just after Cameron's visit to Georgia.

There was a rather serious problem with the article - well, two actually. Apart from it being puerile rubbish, one of Brown's attacks on David Cameron also applies to comments made by the Foreign Secretary, David Milliband!

To be precise, Brown said that he does not support NATO membership for Georgia and does not know anyone who does - which is rather surprising as David Milliband, apparently speaking for the government, appeared to support NATO membership for Georgia yesterday.

There are two possible explanations for this. Either Nick Brown, who as Deputy Chief Whip is actually responsible for making other MPs support government policy, is so incompetent that he doesn't know what it is himself, or else, as some cynics have suggested, Nick Brown who is close to Gordon Brown, was not just attacking David Cameron but actually intended to undermine David Milliband as a potential challenger to Gordon.

Neither of these explanations make the government look good, and William Hague as shadow foreign secretary has written to the Prime Minister asking whether it is Milliband or (Nick) Brown who speaks for the government.

The full letter from Hague to the PM reads as follows:

Dear Prime Minister,

I am sure you will agree that in responding to the crisis in Georgia it is imperative that Britain should speak with a united and clear voice.

It is therefore extraordinary that Nick Brown, your Deputy Chief Whip, has written for the Guardian today that he does not favour NATO membership for Georgia, and he “doesn’t know anyone who does”.

This flatly contradicts the view of the British Government, which has been clearly expressed by the Foreign Secretary, most recently at the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Brussels yesterday, when he said:

“I think in respect of Georgia it's very significant that in May NATO committed not just to Georgia but also to the Ukraine that they would join other formerly, so-called, captive states of the former Warsaw Pact in NATO. And what we're going to agree today is a special mechanism that will bind NATO and Georgia together, a NATO and Georgia commission that will take forward that commitment to Georgian membership”.

This position has been fully supported by the Conservative Party, as David Cameron made clear during his visit to Tbilisi, and in the Sunday Times where he wrote: “We must make clear that Georgia’s aspiration to be a member of NATO remains alive and well. The Alliance should offer Georgia a clear pathway to membership”. During his visit to Tbilisi on Saturday, David Cameron made clear that he strongly supported the position set out by you and David Miliband.

It is essential, not least on the day that he is in Tbilisi where he has underlined Britain’s commitment to Georgia’s membership of NATO, that the Foreign Secretary is clearly speaking on behalf of the British Government.

This is a time for rapid and decisive leadership. This damaging confusion in the midst of an international crisis – with one Minister saying one thing, and another saying completely the opposite – must be immediately cleared up.

Will you therefore make clear straight away that your Deputy Chief Whip was not speaking on behalf of the British Government and that you, like the Opposition, firmly support Georgia’s pathway to NATO membership?

And will you also take action to ensure that there is proper discipline within the Government on important foreign policy issues and that Foreign Office Ministers can speak on foreign policy without being contradicted by other senior members of the Government?

Yours ever

The Rt Hon William Hague MP
Shadow Foreign Secretary

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