Heath attacks Hague on EU

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE came under fresh fire from his own side last night as Sir Edward Heath accused him of talking "nonsense" over the EU Commission crisis.

Mr Heath, who took Britain into Europe, dismissed a suggestion by the Tory party leader that the commissioners should all have resigned last January.

"All of that is absolute nonsense," he said in a television interview. "We know he doesn't want the Commission, he doesn't want us to be in Europe and that's all being proclaimed pretty loudly."

Sir Edward said he would be "perfectly happy" if the pro- European Tory former cabinet minister Chris Patten and the outgoing Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown were Britain's next two nominees to be commissioners.

When it was pointed out that such appointments would leave supporters of Mr Hague's Euro-sceptic line without a voice, the former Prime Minister replied: "It's a pretty small voice in any case in the House of Commons."

Sir Edward conceded that it might be hard for Mr Blair to nominate two non-Labour candidates, but added: "I have long suspected that he really wants to get a nomination from Mr Hague that he won't accept and then put Chris Patten in his place, if Chris wants it."

Last Tuesday Mr Hague told the Commons that while he agreed commissioners not directly implicated by the report should serve out their terms as an interim measure, there should be "a total clear-out of the existing Commission and an entirely new set of commissioners appointed". He also said it was time to change the structure that had led the Commission and the EU to try to do too much and interfere too often.

Sir Edward said last week's report on mismanagement of funds presented an opportunity to tackle the EU's weaknesses. However, he added that for the former French Prime Minister Edith Cresson to have appointed her dentist and his son to Commission jobs was "not necessarily" corruption.

The former prime minister also warned Mr Blair over his comment that the crisis was an opportunity for Britain. "Mr Blair has to be very careful about this," he said.