Aides urge Clinton to snub Major

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RELATIONS between the British government and Bill Clinton have been soured even before he has taken office because Clinton supporters believe that Britain backed George Bush in the US election.

Advisers to the President-elect have urged him to retaliate by snubbing John Major when he visits the United States later this month. The meeting is not now expected to take place, although British officials insist there has been no snub.

Mr Clinton's staff hold the Prime Minister responsible for allowing two Tory campaign strategists to give advice to the Bush campaign which included suggesting attacks on the Democratic candidate's character and on his tax policy.

Their anger deepened yesterday when it was confirmed that British Home Office officials searched their records during the US election for data which might have been damaging to the Clinton campaign, and Mr Clinton himself expressed irritation. Asked to comment, he said: 'They should have more pressing business.'

The Conservative involvement in the Republican campaign may seriously damage Anglo-American relations; one US observer described it as 'the most serious foreign policy mistake ever made by John Major'.

Two top Tory strategists, Sir John Lacy, general director of campaigning at Conservative Central Office, and Mark Fulbrook, a campaigning assistant, visited Washington in September, eight weeks before the election, at the invitation of Newt Gingrich, the far-right Republican leader in the House of Representatives, who wanted a more aggressive campaign.

They advised the Republicans to concentrate their assault on Mr Clinton's trustworthiness and tax policies. The Bush camp had already attacked the Democratic candidate's womanising, draft record, anti-war activities and willingness to raise taxes. An article in the New Yorker last week reported senior Bush aides as saying that the Conservative advisers played a crucial role in crystallising the negative themes of the last eight weeks of the campaign.

Their advice also helped to focus the Republican campaign on questioning Mr Clinton's patriotism, by emphasising a trip he had taken to Moscow in 1969 and his anti-Vietnam war activities in Britain.

The unfavourable view of the British government among Mr Clinton's staff was reinforced yesterday by the confirmation from the Home Office that it had conducted a search of immigration and naturalisation files in October to see if Mr Clinton, when a student in Oxford, had applied for British citizenship to avoid the draft. No material was found, and the Home Office emphasised that if it had been, it would not have been made public. But Clinton staff were privately dismissive of the Home Office's explanation for the search - that it wished to aid journalistic inquiries into the Democratic candidate's years in Britain.

British officials acknowledged yesterday that they had hoped for a meeting between Mr Major and Mr Clinton this year, but they said there had been no snub. Mr Major's four-day visit was mainly for a US-EC summit and Mr Clinton would be in the middle of forming his Cabinet. 'We would actually welcome a delay until the New Year,' said a Downing Street spokesman.

(Photographs omitted)