Hurd attacks Goldsmith and press

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Douglas Hurd last night invoked the spectre of rampant pre-war nationalism in Europe when he delivered the Tory establishment's most withering attack yet on Sir James Goldsmith's intervention in British politics.

Asking "What possible use is Sir James Goldsmith or the referendum he proposes?" the former Foreign Secretary challenged the anti-EU tycoon on whether there was a limit to the extent to which he would "unravel what has been achieved since the last war. Is it the Europe of 1945 he wants, or 1935?"

Mr Hurd gave a clear warning to right-wingers contemplating a referendum on EU membership or withdrawal, under pressure from electoral fear of Sir James's party.

"The Prime Minister is right," Mr Hurd told the European Movement in Edinburgh. "The Government's policy must not be put at the mercy of millionaires who play with British politics as a hobby or a boost to newspaper sales."

Ending the strategy of loftily ignoring his arguments, Mr Hurd denounced Sir James's call for a referendum, beyond that promised already by Mr Major, and his protectionism.

Conservative Central Office yesterday sent out copies of the French and English versions of a section of Sir James's book The Trap, to point out that he had omitted from the latter favourable references to the European Monetary system.

Mr Hurd suggested the idea of a referendum on whether Britain should be part of a European "superstate" would be futile. He said: "If the British people are asked whether they want to enter as European superstate they will vote no. So will the Prime Minister. So will Mr Blair. Of what possible help is that in forming the kind of Europe which we need?"

He asked: "Where's the beef, Sir James? How many tons of British beef will we sell by quarrelling with our customers?"

Mr Hurd also hit out at the Eurosceptic tone of the Tory press: "Some of the advice the Government is receiving from the press and others seems distinctly dotty."

Few people wanted Britain to become part of a "wholly integrated superstate," he said. But equally Europe was not top of their agenda. "It flies counter to reason to suppose it would be electorally helpful to put Europe in the front line of electoral debate," he added.