Biography Chronology Home Search Speeches/Statements

1991 - Mr Major’s First Statement of Day on Soviet Union

Below is the text of Mr Major's first statement, made in Downing Street, on Monday 19th August 1991 on the Soviet Union situation.


PRIME MINISTER:

Events overnight are clearly a very ominous development indeed. I will be consulting our friends and allies over the next few hours and I would expect to have a meeting of senior colleagues at No. 10 in the middle of the afternoon.

There seems little doubt that President Gorbachev has been removed from power by an unconstitutional seizure of power. There are constitutional ways of removing the President of the Soviet Union; they have not been used.

Whatever the future may hold for President Gorbachev, I hope there is no doubt in anyone's mind about the immense contribution that he has made over recent years both to the prospects for people within the Soviet Union and to the rapprochement that has taken place between East and West as a result of his efforts and those of Presidents Reagan, Bush and others. He has, therefore, a very proud record indeed.

I believe that the whole world has a very serious stake in the events currently taking place in the Soviet Union; the reform process that is of vital importance to the whole world and of most vital importance of course to the Soviet people themselves and I hope that is fully understood by everyone.

There is a great deal of information we don't yet have but I would like to make clear above all that we will expect the Soviet Union to respect and honour all those commitments that President Gorbachev has made on its behalf.

I hope we will be able to say more later on today. I will take one or two questions but very few.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, given what you say, do you believe it is too late now to influence events and if it is, who does the West do business with?

PRIME MINISTER:

We simply don't know the answer to that question yes. I hope we will find out more information during the course of the day.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, the G7 Summit offered moral support to Mr. Gorbachev. Do you now feel in retrospect that you should have given him much more, especially hard cash?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't believe that is the case and neither is that the cause of the present difficulties in the Soviet Union today so far as we can see.

What we were seeking to do and indeed I was going to Moscow in order to further that later on this year, was to help along the reform progress. What appears to have happened is a strike against the reform process in the Soviet Union.

QUESTION:

Mr. Major, do you believe you will still be going to Moscow?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is too early to say.

QUESTION:

Does the international crisis enhance the Conservatives' election chances?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have had no chance of contemplating that matter this morning.

QUESTION:

Were you forewarned in any way at all?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we were not forewarned. Of course, the possibility of some action of this sort has been around and has been considered for some considerable time but there was no immediate knowledge that it was going to happen at this particular moment. As background, clearly one realised the possibility of this happening at some stage.

QUESTION:

Given the fall in the FT index today, how worried are you about the implications for the British economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is very early stages in terms of the fall in the FT index; we will have to see how it will stabilise. I think there is no reason for people to panic in terms of the international markets, either the exchange markets or the stock exchanges and I hope people won't.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, will there have to be some reconsideration given to the planned defence cuts?

PRIME MINISTER:

I see no reason for us to do that. The prospects of events in the Soviet Union were amongst those matters that were considered and considered very carefully in terms of the defence reductions that were made. It is quite wrong for people to suggest, as sometime they have done, that they were Treasury-driven cuts; those changes in our defence posture were made as a result of changing circumstances, changing needs, changing capacity and changing nature of weaponry so there were a whole series of other reasons for making the changes that were in hand.

QUESTION:

Do you fear a return to the Cold War, then, Prime Minister? Is that what we are looking at?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't believe that we are in a position to make a firm judgement on that yet; clearly, one would hope not. I don't think one is going back to the position that existed pre-Mr. Gorbachev but of course it is very early to make any judgements of this sort and although it is perhaps not the answer you would wish, I think we will have to wait and see how events unfold and be a little better informed than we are at the present over what is actually happening. I hope we will know more later on today; if we do, of course we will say so.