May 31st, 2015
01:22 PM ET

Sir Peter Westmacott rebuts accusation of Britain's resignation as a world power: "talk of strategic shrinkage or Britain withdrawing from the world is seriously overstated...the British government has had to make savings..."

Please credit any usage to “CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS”

The following transcript is of an exclusive interview with Britain’s Ambassador to the U.S., Sir Peter Westmacott.  Sir Westmacott discusses Britain’s intentions regarding joining the European Union, military interventions in Iraq and Syria, and responds on behalf of his government to Fareed Zakaria’s op-ed that Britain “has resigned” as a world power.

MANDATORY CREDIT for reference and usage: “CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS”

VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

Fareed’s Take on Britain resigning as a global power

Peter Westmacott on the U.K.’s global relevance

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

Zakaria to Westmacott on the British Parliament’s vote not to support the US military intervention in Syria

ZAKARIA: …If you look at the vote on Syria, the United States threatened force… the use of force against Syria, drew this famous red line, and one of the reasons, perhaps the principal reason Barack Obama changed his mind, in an extremely embarrassing way, was that the British parliament refused to support any U.S. military action… Isn't that a sign that Britain is unwilling to act like a global power?

WESTMACOTT: If you look at what we're doing now, I think the evidence says the opposite. Yes, that vote took place during the holiday season, in August, at short notice. But if you look at what we are doing now in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, it is really very significant what we're doing in Iraq. We’re also active in Syria. We're not taking part at the moment in air strikes in Syria. That is, indeed, the case. But we are very engaged in the campaign to get rid of Bashar al-Assad...”

Westmacott on whether Britain will become part of the EU

The Prime Minister's intention…is to ensure that we can get improvements in the way the European Union works. There are a number of changes that we need to negotiate.  But the strategy of the Prime Minister is to go to his colleagues, is to seek those improvements, and to then go back to the British people in a referendum with a strong enough package of improvements that the British people will conclude that their future lies in the European Union.

Westmacott on Europe and the U.S. still having a “special relationship”

WESTMACOTT: …when David Cameron was here a couple of months ago, I remember the President of the United States - I was there in the White House - describing him as a great friend and one of my closest and most trusted partners in the world. And that sounds to me like a pretty special relationship. When I was with the British defense secretary and Ash Carter a few weeks after that, I heard Ash Carter say that the special relationship with the United Kingdom was the cornerstone of the national security of both our countries…. I think if you look at the detail of what we are doing, the military cooperation, the interoperability, the way in which our intelligence services work closely together to counter terrorism and organized criminals and so on, I would not agree with your premise that there is a special relationship which has died or doesn't exist anymore.

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: Last week in my take here on GPS and my Washington Post column, I said that after 300 years, Britain had resigned its role as a global power.

Here are some of the examples of what I offered as evidence - the shrinking of Britain's army; the possibility that in the future, it could have the same amount of manpower as the New York Police Department; the fact that Britannia can no longer rule the waves, since it currently has no aircraft carriers, though it does have two under construction; the 25 percent cuts in the Foreign Ministry in David Cameron's first term; and cuts in the BBC World Service, its public diplomacy arm.

Well, as you might imagine, my article generated strong feelings. Some Brits, especially David Cameron's fellow conservatives, thought I had maligned their great nation. Other Brits, especially opposition Labourites, said “here, here,” which today means multiple Retweets.

One of the parties who begged to differ with me was Her Majesty's Ambassador to the United States of America, Sir Peter Westmacott, Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. He joins me now.  Peter, pleasure to have you on.

PETER WESTMACOTT, U.K. AMBASSADOR: Thank you, Fareed. Good to see you.

ZAKARIA: So I had a chance to get my views across. Tell me why I'm wrong.

WESTMACOTT: I think this talk of strategic shrinkage or Britain withdrawing from the world is seriously overstated. If you look at the reality of life, it is different to that. Yes, you're right, the Foreign Office has had to take its cuts. But then, you know, the British government has had to make savings. We had a major deficit problem. We had to get our public spending under control. We've come a very long way in that direction. There's more to do, but we've come a long way.

And yet, at the same time, we've got more diplomatic posts open around the world. We're in 160 different countries. We've got 270 different posts. We are very active. And if you look at the capabilities, you look at what we do with our armed services and our diplomacy around the world, it is still a pretty remarkable story

The stuff that we're doing - for example, in Iraq, where we're providing an ISR capabilities, precision strikes, air tanking, delivery of munitions to the Kurds to help them fight back against ISIL and so on, we are doing a lot in different parts of the world.

So I think the U.K. is still very much in business. And if you like ahead at the fact that we're going to spend 250 billion pounds over the next 10 years on new equipment, building those aircraft carriers that you mentioned, buying the F-35s to put on it,  replacing our nuclear deterrent submarines, you know, we're doing a great deal of things in the - in the future.

So I think this talk is a little overdone.

ZAKARIA: Do you think that there is a, you know, the danger that if Britain detaches from Europe, if the referendum goes awry - you know, I look at a Britain that has lost its special relationship with the United States, for complicated reasons. Asia has become important. You know, the United States is not as focused on Europe because Europe is, you know, it doesn't - it is not in as much crisis as, perhaps, it was during the cold war.

But for whatever reason, you don't have that role. You don't have a central role in Europe. What are you, then, a kind of small island off the coast of Europe with no special relationship with anyone?

WESTMACOTT: Fareed, when David Cameron was here a couple of months ago, I remember the president of the United States - I was there in the White House - describing him as a great friend and one of my closest and most trusted partners in the world. And that sounds to me like a pretty special relationship.

When I was with the British defense secretary and Ash Carter a few weeks after that, I heard Ash Carter say that the special relationship with the United Kingdom was the cornerstone of the national security of both our countries.

I think if you look at the detail of what we are doing, the military cooperation, the interoperability, the way in which our intelligence services work closely together to counter terrorism and organized criminals and so on, I would not agree with your premise that there is a special relationship which has died or doesn't exist anymore.

I think it does. I hear it regularly from the people that I talk to, and I think the way in which the United States and the United Kingdom continue to work together across the board, whether it's on culture, whether it's on business or investment or commerce, promoting free trade in the world through the trans-Atlantic trade negotiations at the moment, and in diplomacy and, where necessary, the use of muscular force, I still think we are significant and major players. And that is what I hear from my friends here.

If we are to change our relationship with the European Union, then we're in a different place.  But let me just be very clear about this. The Prime Minister's intention - and that's why he's begun going around European capitals as we speak - is to ensure that we can get improvements in the way the European Union works. There are a number of changes that we need to negotiate.

But the strategy of the Prime Minister is to go to his colleagues, is to seek those improvements, and to then go back to the British people in a referendum with a strong enough package of improvements that the British people will conclude that their future lies in the European Union.

So that's the game. That's the strategy. And that's my Prime Minister's plan.

ZAKARIA: But the mood of the country has changed. It's not just the government. If you look at the vote on Syria, the United States threatened force - the use of force against Syria, drew this famous red line, and one of the reasons, perhaps the principal reason Barack Obama changed his mind in an extremely embarrassing way was that the British Parliament refused to support any U.S. military action.

I think this is the first time the British parliament has done that, certainly in my memory. Isn't that a sign that Britain is unwilling to act like a global power?

WESTMACOTT: If you look at what we're doing now, I think the evidence says the opposite.  Yes, that vote took place during the holiday season, in August at short notice.

But if you look at what we are doing now in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, it is really very significant what we're doing in Iraq. We're also active in Syria. We're not taking part at the moment in air strikes in Syria. That is, indeed, the case. But we are very engaged in the campaign to get rid of Bashar al-Assad. We are engaged with our partners to try to...

ZAKARIA: He's still around

WESTMACOTT: - reinvigorate the political track, but we're also involved in training and equipping the Syrian - moderate Syrian opposition. We're helping with ISR facilities in Iraq.  And we're doing a great deal with air tanking, with precision bombing, with train and equip, with counter-IED special support to the Iraqi armed forces.

We are significant players. So I think you can judge us by what is going on, by our actions, and also by our very substantial investment programs for the future of our military capability.

ZAKARIA: Well, my experience in dealing with British intelligence officers, British diplomats, is that they are of extremely high quality. I just wish they had more to do.

WESTMACOTT: I'm not short of things to do, Fareed. Thank you for having me.

ZAKARIA: A pleasure.

 

END INTERVIEW

 


Topics: CNN • Fareed Zakaria • Fareed Zakaria GPS
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