CANNES SUMMIT: John Major gets away from it all

SKETCH

The President of France had already gone inside when the last of his guests for the Cannes summit arrived. The police outriders roared down from the direction of the Old Port, the fleet of black limousines swept on to the Croisette, and they pulled to a halt. John Major had arrived.

Men in dark pinstripe suits stepped blinking into the sunshine and hurried across the red carpet to the Palais des Festivals, the scene of so many triumphs and disappointments for cinema's stars and starlets. As they scurried up the steps, a journalist called out: "Are you going to resign, Mr Major?"

"Good afternoon," he replied courteously, and disappeared inside.

As the mise-en-scene for what could be the Prime Minister's final appearance on the world stage, Cannes could hardly be bettered. The French Government has woven a rich tapestry against which to set this event, from the Guards with their red-plumed ceremonial helmets to the chefs in starched white toques. And there is a piquancy about this summit. The evening before, Douglas Hurd swept into Cannes, lounging in the back of the Embassy Rolls Royce as it purred to a halt outside the baroque facade of the Carlton Hotel. The car, the dove-grey suit, the neatly knotted pink silk tie perfectly conveyed the image of traditional diplomacy which Mr Hurd has epitomised. But it is the last time that he will stand amongst his colleagues for the family photograph, his thick quiff of white hair waving above the crowd.

While John Major's enemies are gathering their forces hundreds of miles away in television studios and dark Westminster corridors, here the crowds are circling in the warm Riviera sunshine and the talk is of their dream of a single currency and a Europe that will stretch from the Azores to the Russian steppes. The European summit has brought the heads of no less than twenty-six nations to this sun-drenched town. But it may not be just Mr Hurd and Mr Major who are, for the last time, sipping claret at the high table of European diplomacy. The Italian, Spanish and even German representatives may too be on borrowed time.

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