Robertson forced to “eat his words” over NATO claims

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By a Newsnet reporter

Labour member of the House of Lords George Robertson has been forced to “eat his words” over a claim that an independent Scotland would have to keep nuclear weapons to remain part of NATO – after it emerged he was contradicting his own previous assurances.

Tony Blair’s former Defence Secretary, who was given a seat in the House of Lords by Mr Blair in 1999, was latterly Secretary General of NATO, a post he held until 2004.

By a Newsnet reporter

Labour member of the House of Lords George Robertson has been forced to “eat his words” over a claim that an independent Scotland would have to keep nuclear weapons to remain part of NATO – after it emerged he was contradicting his own previous assurances.

Tony Blair’s former Defence Secretary, who was given a seat in the House of Lords by Mr Blair in 1999, was latterly Secretary General of NATO, a post he held until 2004.

Mr Robertson made his comments as the SNP announced plans to reconsider the party’s policy on NATO membership.  Mr Robertson claimed that NATO members would force an independent Scotland to retain nuclear weapons after independence, saying:

“If they [the SNP] are going to rely on NATO, they are going to have to accept the strategic concept which says NATO is a nuclear alliance and members will retain nuclear weapons. But they are laying down conditions as if they are in a strong position to negotiate.

“This statement from the SNP will be greeted with derision by other countries in NATO, including the smaller ones.”

However, not for the first time, it was Mr Robertson’s remarks which were greeted with derision.  The SNP immediately reminded former NATO Secretary General of his own remarks during a speech to the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations in 2001, in which he said:

“In the Founding Act NATO committed itself to the famous three nuclear ‘no’s’ – no intention, no plan and no reason to establish nuclear weapon storage sites on the territory of the new members – a commitment still valid.”

This isn’t the first time the Mr Robertson has made comments which have subsequently backfired on him.  Most notoriously in 1995, while he was Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Robertson predicted “Devolution will kill Nationalism stone dead”.  Since Mr Robertson made that remark, the desire in Scotland for greater self-government has only grown and the SNP has eclipsed Labour as the largest party in Scotland.

The former Defence Secretary is a long-standing supporter of nuclear weapons.  Even in the 1980s when many in Labour campaigned for unilateral nuclear disarmament, Mr Robertson was strongly in favour of retaining the UK’s nuclear capacity.  He joined British-Atlantic Committee in 1984, an organisation partly funded by the Thatcher government seeking to promote NATO and counter anti-nuclear groups.

Since being succeeded in the post of Secretary General of NATO by Javier Solana in 2004, Mr Robertson has built a lucrative career as director of a number of companies with links to the defence industry, including the Weir Group, and the Russian oil company TNK-BP, and non-executive Chairman of Cable and Wireless.  

Shareholder groups repeatedly warned about excessive executive remuneration at Cable and Wireless before it split into two separately listed companies in early 2010.  When the Conservatives were in power during the 1990s, the appointments of former ministers to boardroom posts attracted savage criticism from Labour MPs.

Although Mr Robertson denies that he is a lobbyist, in 2005 the former minister used his connections in the Department Of Trade to arrange a meeting for between Cable and Wireless and his former colleague Ian Pearson.  Previously Mr Robertson had also arranged a meeting between the chief of the Export Agency, within the Department of Trade, so as to receive help for the company’s international business plans.

It was reported in 2005 that Mr Roberston was paid £421,601 annually by Cable and Wireless, and also received a £200,000 bonus.  He works for the company 2 days a week.

Commenting, SNP MP Angus MacNeil – who has co-sponsored a resolution updating SNP defence policy to be debated at the party’s annual conference in October – accused Mr Roberston of reducing Scotland’s independence debate to “partisan scaremongering”, and said:

“It is no surprise that George Robertson has been made to eat his own words on Scotland’s defence prospects – he is after all the man who predicted that the Scottish Parliament would kill the SNP stone-dead.

“Lord Robertson is first and foremost a very loyal Labour politician, but it is important that the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future is not reduced to partisan scaremongering.

“With agreement on the withdrawal of Trident and retaining the important role of the UN, Scotland can continue working with neighbours and allies within NATO.”