UK foreign secretary Jack Straw discusses wide range of issues on Prague visit

Jack Straw, photo: CTK

Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, was in Prague on Tuesday as the guest speaker at a meeting of the Czech Republic's ambassadors. Mr Straw also held talks with senior Czech politicians, on such issues as European-US relations, whether Turkey should be allowed to join the European Union and - of course - relations between the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic, which he described as "very close".

Jack Straw,  photo: CTK
Jack Straw pointed out that Great Britain was one of the few countries which had not imposed labour restrictions on citizens of new EU states. Fears of a flood of workers and welfare claimants had, he said, proved unfounded.

"There were many people in the UK saying this would be a bad thing. We thought it would be a good thing; it has turned out to be a thoroughly good thing. And all of those Czech workers who have come to the United Kingdom have been very welcome.

"I think the whole arrangement has gone very smoothly, to your benefit and to our benefit, and I can think of no reports of any difficulties on this, so thank you for you co-operation. It's a great tribute to Czech society and the Czech government that it's gone as smoothly as that."

European Union leaders are to decide in December whether to begin accession talks with Turkey, and the issue has divided opinion around the continent. While the Czech government has yet to take a clear stand on the issue, the UK is very much in favour.

Jack Straw with the president Vaclav Klaus,  photo: CTK
"We have long supported Turkish membership of the European Union. It is entitled, as a member of the Council of Europe - which it has been for decades - and of Nato, to make an application for membership of the European Union, and to have it treated in the same way as any other country.

"And it has made very considerable progress, particularly in the last two years, towards meeting the necessary preconditions before negotiations can begin. I know views differ about this, but people need to think very carefully about the strategic implications of pushing Turkey away, pushing Turkey to the East and to the South. I don't think that's in anybody's interests, in Europe."

While in Prague on Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw also recalled the first time he came to the Czech capital - several decades ago.

"I'm delighted and honoured to be here, back in Prague, a great city which I first visited - dare I confess? - 42 years ago, as a schoolboy. And I liked it so much, and the Czech Republic so much, that I came back with a group of friends the following year. It's changed a lot, and changed for the better, but I learnt a lot on that visit."