British splits over Maastricht widen

Click to follow
The Independent Online
CONSERVATIVE and Labour divisions over Maastricht widened yesterday as Kenneth Baker, the former Home Secretary, urged the French to reject the treaty in their referendum and John Prescott, a member of Labour's Shadow Cabinet, said his senior colleagues were split on the issue.

John Major said during a visit to North Wales that a 'resounding' French endorsement of the treaty would be the best outcome for Britain and the rest of the EC.

Asked whether he feared rejection, he said: 'It is not a question of fearing a French 'no' vote. The Maastricht treaty, to become operative, has to be approved over time by all the members of the Community.' He added that everybody felt the treaty had defects, and not everybody liked every single part of it. 'But on balance this is the right treaty to take Europe forward; I have no doubt about that.'

Mr Baker, who was sacked by Mr Major after the general election, said a French rejection would increase the chances of a realignment of currencies within the exchange rate mechanism, give time for reflection on the federalist momentum of Brussels - and get rid of 'tension' within the Tory ranks.

'All I am saying is that a 'no' vote would not be disastrous for Britain, would not be disastrous for Europe,' he told BBC radio.

Conservative supporters of Maastricht were quick to reply that Mr Baker had not felt it necessary to resign as a member of the Cabinet that had endorsed it last year. It was conceded, however, that he was a good marker of the way in which the tide was flowing within the party.

Mr Prescott's intervention in the debate was more remarkable. As his party's transport spokesman, he is not expected to make public comments on foreign affairs - least of all to contradict John Cunningham, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, who said earlier this week that a French 'yes' would be welcomed.

When it was put to Mr Prescott on BBC radio yesterday that the Shadow Cabinet wanted the French to vote 'yes', he said: 'That's a judgement of yours. There are varying kinds of views within the Shadow Cabinet . . . and I don't think that's the general position . . . There are different views that are reflected both in the Labour Party and in the Tory party; in that sense, it's an attitude about whether you want to move to a federal Europe. I totally reject a federal Europe, and that is the view of the Labour Party. That's our policy.

'What we have done is put the French in the position where they are the ones who are going to decide things for Europe. I don't accept that.'

An opinion poll conducted yesterday by the CSA polling institute for the newspaper Le Parisien Libere put French support for the treaty at 55 per cent, with 45 per cent against.