Election '97: Major pledges to halt EU reform

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The Independent Online
John Major last night clashed with Jacques Santer, the President of the European Commission and committed the Tories to putting a brake on moves to a federal Europe at the Amsterdam summit.

In strongly Euro-sceptics tones, the Prime Minister coupled his criticism of Mr Santer with a sustained and personal assault on the credibility of Tony Blair's claims to be trusted by the electorate.

Mr Major hurriedly redrafted a speech to a rally in York to highlight his rejection of Mr Santer's earlier remarks that institutional reform with more majority voting was a way of getting out of the trap of a vicious circle of paralysis.

"I disagree. Unlike the Labour leader, I will veto if it is right for Britain. I will keep my feet on the brakes. Mr Blair would go to Amsterdam and put his foot on the accelerator to a federal Europe."

Earlier, Mr Major told a BBC Radio phone-in programme that Mr Santer's remarks "absolutely reinforced the fears" Mr Major had raised a few days ago at a press conference on the Amsterdam summit.

"I do not believe there is an appetite for integration in Europe, with more of the decisions taken in Westminster to be taken in Brussels ... I don't want to integrate any further," said Mr Major.

Senior Conservative sources privately said they were "not displeased" with the Mr Santer's remarks, despite being toned down, because they played into the Tory election strategy of raising Europe as a weapon with which to beat Labour.

Before the last minute changes, it was clear that Mr Major had intended to use his York speech for the most general assault so far on Tony Blair's leadership. He ridiculed Mr Blair on Europe but considerably widened his attack to Mr Blair's past record on CND, the sale of council houses, tax cuts, grant-maintained schools, pensions, wider share-ownership and tougher sentencing.

"If Mr Blair has been so wrong in the past, people can not trust him now to protect our interests in the future.

"He could have chosen Margaret Thatcher. He chose old Labour, can there ever have been a more stunning misjudgment in the history of politics?"

Mr Major said that Mr Blair had accused him of making a fetish out of being isolated in Europe. "It is not isolation, Mr Blair. It is called British national interest. I would rather make a fetish out of protecting that than, like you, surrendering," said Mr Major.

He added: "It is high time Mr Blair apologised to the British people for standing in the way of everything that has made Britain the better place it is today. It is time for Mr Blair to say sorry for getting it wrong time after time."

The Prime Minister's attack was echoed by Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, who said: "The Brussels vision of Europe seems disturbingly similar to that of the Labour Party: an end to the veto; a job-destroying employment chapter; and more powers to the EU Parliament - all part of the Commission's vision and all Labour Party policy.