Hague tells Blair: Stop grovelling to our EU partners

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WILLIAM HAGUE accused Tony Blair of "grovelling" to Britain's European Union partners last night as he stepped up his attack over the Government's failure to get the ban on British beef lifted.

The Tory leader accused the Prime Minister of damaging Britain's prospects in future EU negotiations by "grovelling, conceding and giving in" over beef. He claimed Mr Blair had lost credibility in the eyes of other EU leaders.

He said the Prime Minister's handling of the beef crisis showed that his wider strategy on Europe was now in tatters. "You don't get respect just by grinning at everybody," he said.

Mr Hague taunted Mr Blair by saying that France, which is resisting pressure from the European Commission to lift the beef ban, had "operated far more successfully in Europe than the Blair government".

He said: "France doesn't worry about not having another ally. It just stands up for its own point of view. The only governments that succeed in Europe are those that have got a spine.

"Tony Blair just sells out. He should now start standing up for Britain's interests in Europe instead of Europe's interests in Britain.

"Mr Blair famously said he never wanted to be isolated in Europe. In fact, his isolation is complete. Mr Blair is the only European leader who never stands up for his country." He insisted that Mr Blair had been a failure in his own terms, since he had repeatedly cited the lifting of the beef ban as a success of Labour's whole approach to Europe.

Mr Hague listed six other ways in which Labour had "surrendered" to the EU since winning power - over the social chapter of workers' rights; giving up the veto in 15 areas; defence policy; Common Agricultural Policy reform; the appointment of Romano Prodi as European Commission president and by moving towards joining the single currency.

"Mr Blair's strategy of making concessions in Europe at every turn has meant that vital British interests have been abandoned," said Mr Hague. "He has achieved absolutely nothing in return. Surrender after surrender has just led to failure."

He predicted another cave-in by Britain during the review of the EU's decision-making process, the Inter-Governmental Conference, starting next year, which will consider an extension of majority voting in the Council of Ministers.

Ministers dismissed Mr Hague's attack as "ludicrous", insisting that it was the Tory leader who was isolated in Europe. They said the fruits of Mr Blair's policy of "constructive engagement" in Europe were already evident, pointing to the appointment of Neil Kinnock and Chris Patten to senior jobs at the European Commission and that of Lord Robertson, the former defence secretary, as Nato's secretary-general.

On visit to Scotland yesterday, Mr Hague demanded the resignation of the Agriculture minister, Nick Brown, and his Scottish and Welsh counterparts, claiming they had presided over the worst countryside crisis since the depression of the 1930s.

"It is clear that in Scotland, just as in England and Wales, farmers and consumers alike can have no confidence in the incompetence and poor negotiating skills of the agricultural ministers who have been foisted upon them," Mr Hague said.