Absolutely top-hole, said Baroness Anelay of St Johns who happens to be the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office:
My Lords, the Government’s first priority is to establish a strong working relationship with Greece’s new Government. Last week, the Prime Minister called Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on the telephone to congratulate him, and yesterday the Chancellor met the new Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis. The UK remains committed to working closely with the new Government on the full range of bilateral, EU, NATO and wider international issues.Well, fairly top-hole anyway.
Lord Clinton Davis, a former Commissioner and a man who is, therefore, in receipt of a handsome pension from the European Commission but he does not have to declare that as an interest, followed his original question by the following:
My Lords, are not the poor and many middle-class people in Greece enduring unbelievable hardship? What are the United Kingdom Government able to do to mitigate this disaster? Are the people of Greece able to look forward in any way? It is hardly surprising that they are resorting to radical measures. What can the Government do, given that Britain is a member of the European Union, to alleviate their plight?The Minister then proceeded to give the noble Peer some elementary lessons in EU structures:
My Lords, we are indeed a member of the EU, but we are not a member of the eurozone; so I would gently say to the noble Lord that we are not directly involved in Greece’s debt repayment negotiations, and nor indeed should we be. Of course, we are open to the discussions with the Greek Government, as I explained in my first Answer. The discussions yesterday were cordial and constructive, and that was the interpretation of both the Greek Finance Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As I say, we are open to discussions, but since we are not a member of the eurozone we are not the country that will take the decision about how the Greek Government may decide to present their plans—which possibly will be next week. I know that they are working hard to achieve that.The rest of the discussion amounted to very little. After all, what can anyone say at this stage? We have no idea what the Greek government will come up with and what of their initial proposals will be real as opposed to just bargaining chips.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch did say the unsayable (he often does, as readers of this blog know):
My Lords, given the euro’s catastrophic effect on jobs and prosperity, should not our top priority be to encourage Greece, and indeed the other euro member states, to abandon it? If that led to the collapse of the whole project of European integration, would that not be hugely beneficial to us all? Just in case the Minister does not agree with me, can she tell noble Lords what is now the point of the European Union and its wretched euro?To which HMG in the shape of Baroness Anelay replied:
My Lords, it is clear that the stand-off between Greece and the eurozone is fast becoming the biggest risk to the global economy and is a rising threat to our economy at home. I say that, and indeed the Chancellor of the Exchequer said it yesterday after his meeting with the Greek Finance Minister. It is up to Europe to come to a conclusion which means that Greece can remain part of the euro, that the European Union can prosper, and that jobs and growth can continue. That is the way forward for success in Europe and for the success of this country in Europe.Not much else it can say.