Hurd rebukes EU critics

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DOUGLAS HURD used all his authority yesterday as Foreign Secretary to deliver a clear rebuke to Tory critics of the European Union and pledge that the party would stand for an 'unambiguous yes to Europe' in the coming elections and beyond.

He launched a determined effort to wrench the party's centre of gravity back to its traditional Europeanism in a clear warning to Tories, from the Cabinet down, not to revive feuding over Maastricht which beset the party last year.

Mr Hurd, who flew to northern Greece last night to resume negotiations on the voting row threatening EU enlargement, said that 'Britain against Europe cannot in our saner moments be our rallying cry.' He told the Tory Central Council in Plymouth: 'Let us stop all this divisive nonsense about Europhile and Eurosceptic. That is yesterday's game; those are yesterday's battered toys. Let us put them back in the toy cupboard where they belong.'

Mr Hurd's language was in sharp contrast to the Eurosceptic tone adopted in the Commons by John Major last Tuesday and although the speech was cleared by Downing Street it will be seen as an implicit message to the Prime Minister that he should withstand pressure from the right to abandon his own stated goal of keeping Britain 'at the heart of Europe.' Mr Major is to address the conference today.

The Cabinet agreed last Thursday that statements by its members on European policy should be cleared by Downing Street.

Mr Hurd asserted that 'in the world in which Britain actually lives, the prosperity of Europe is our prosperity, the security of Europe is our security, the dangers of Europe are our dangers.'

While insisting ministers were right to argue against an 'automatic mechanical' increase in the blocking minority being sought by most EU countries from 23 to 27, Mr Hurd said that 'we have been in a minority on fewer occasions than we have been in a majority.'

Mr Hurd said in later interviews that he was willing to compromise but it had to be acceptable to Britain. He had been given 'some flexibility' by the Cabinet, adding: 'I also know how things stand here and how people feel.' He would be unhappy to see enlargement delayed because of a failure to reach agreement on voting.

But the main purpose of Mr Hurd's speech went beyond the minutiae of the current row. Mr Hurd witheringly dismissed as a 'meaningless proposition' the argument that Europe was merely a free trade area.

Party fears, page 4

Leading article, page 14