Blair walks tall into Europe

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair yesterday went to Germany to pull off a breathtakingly bold political stroke on Europe, wearing his European colours with pride and defying the Tories to do their worst in smearing him as a man about to sell out Britain.

The Labour leader told his Bonn audience that he wanted to walk tall in Europe, not skulk on the sidelines, and in a bold speech directly took on John Major's attempts to present him as a "poodle" who would be "walked over" by the big, bad barons of Brussels.

He made his move from an increasing position of Labour strength and government drift. The Westminster hothouse is starting to rumble with wild talk of an early, suicidal election, with one former Tory Cabinet member telling the Independent that the number of Conservative MPs could be halved to 160.

The air of Tory dismay and despair was last night being fed by dark hints of a beef sell-out based on the number of cattle to be culled; and realisation that the one feather in Mr Major's cap, the Irish peace process, is threatened by a possible return to violence. Having dashed back from Bonn for the occasion, Mr Blair took the initiative at Prime Minister's questions to pile the pressure on Sinn Fein to eschew violence.

But even as he was returning from Heathrow, he got the first taste of the Tory onslaught against his Bonn speech, with Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, the Government's arch-Europhile, telling BBC radio's World at One that Labour was selling Britain out to the Germans.

Mr Blair told the German equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry: " We will - and with pride - fight the election on a platform of ending this perpetual and negative isolationism and I should tell you that I think our opponents are miscalculating. I have no doubt at all that Britain's future lies in the EU and at the centre of its events, not on the sidelines.

"It is demeaning to my country, that is so rightly proud of its history and traditions, to be reduced to the margins of influence, dragged along querulously behind the vision and drive of others. Britain should take its proper place as a leader in Europe."

Mocking Tory calls for a British withdrawal, he said that was a view shared by few outside the Tory ranks, but for the avoidance of doubt he clarified the position that would be taken by a Labour government.

"Relations based on our national interest, which demands that we are a leading player in Europe; succeeding in Europe, not failing; winning, not losing; walking tall in Europe, not skulking on the sidelines; constructive and engaged, not simply because the interests of Europe demand it, but above all because the interests of Britain demand it."

In spite of the fact that those words could have been written by Mr Heseltine before he returned to government in 1990, the Deputy Prime Minister swung into the attack, saying: "It is utterly ludicrous for Tony Blair to go to Germany and say, `All right, now we'll all be nice together, it'll all be one great love-in out there'.

"He would get walked over by much tougher, harder people who know the reality of the nation states fighting for supremacy within Europe."

With a new Harris/Independent poll showing that the people of Germany, France and Britain are all opposed to a single currency - in Britain's case by a huge 4-to-1 majority - if asked about hard practicalities, Mr Blair also said that he would work closely with the Germans and others to make sure that economic and monetary union was given "the best chance of working". But he also used to speech to trail further "New Labour" shifts to be announced later this week - this time on trade union rights.

Mr Blair said: "Job security cannot today come through over-regulation. We will not reverse the main elements of 1980s trade union legislation."

A leadership source said last night the best rights for workers would be delivered through the provision of skills and training. Mr Blair said he was determined to chart a new course for the centre and centre-left of British politics, adding: "Political parties in the next century will need to cross the old boundaries of left and right."

Terror alert, page 2

Britain's future at the

centre, not the sidelines

I want you to know that, however unfairly we believe we have been treated, I reject, and most British people reject unreservedly, the xenophobia and anti-German sentiment that this crisis has engendered in certain quarters.

I have no doubt at all that Britain's future lies in the EU, and at the centre of its events, not on the sidelines.

It is demeaning to my country, that is so rightly proud of its history and traditions, to be reduced to the margins of influence, dragged along querulously behind the vision and drive of others.

I intend to lead a new Labour government that will provide a fresh start in Britain's relations with Europe ... which demands that we are a leading player in Europe; succeeding in Europe, not failing; winning not losing; walking tall in Europe, not skulking on the sidelines; constructive and engaged, not simply because the interests of Europe demand it, but above all because the interests of Britain demand it.

We will fight the next election as the party in favour of a constructive relationship within Europe. The Conservatives, whatever the true instincts of some of their leaders, will fight it - trying to portray a new Labour government as selling out Britain to Europe. They will say that we want to end Britain's identity as a nation state in some United States of Europe, to abandon Britain's veto over all areas of policy.

Their claims are nonsense, and they know it. We will, with pride, fight the election on a platform of ending this perpetual and negative isolationism.

Excerpts from Tony Blair's speech in Germany

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