Lamont's beef in character for Cook

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The Independent Online
Robin Cook had scarcely coined his description of the Conservative Party as "refashioning itself as an English Nationalist Party" when up bobbed Norman Lamont in the Commons invoking the defeat of Napoleon as a lesson for solving the beef crisis.

Mr Cook, in speech yesterday to the Royal Institution of International Affairs, had tried to turn the debate on Europe to how Britain would win the peace after the current disruption was over. But while Labour's spokesman on foreign affairs echoed the concerns of the CBI about the risk to jobs and the economy from non-cooperation, Mr Lamont, the former Tory Chancellor, was cheered by Euro-sceptics for an Old Labour-style rant against a captain of industry.

At a CBI gathering on Wednesday, Niall Fitzgerald, chairman designate of Unilever, said that if the crisis continued, it would harm trade with Europe. But Mr Lamont, at Question Time, recalled that during the Napoleonic wars, Samuel Whitbread was always predicting defeat and urging the Government to negotiate with Napoleon. He told the Prime Minister to "ignore the successors to Samuel Whitbread in the CBI who want to throw in the towel ... and tell the chairman of Unilever to stick to cream cakes and detergents."

Mr Cook told the RIIA it was by no means clear that the Conservative government could now find any other form of relationship with Europe other than confrontation. "We currently are witnessing the export of Mrs Thatcher's style through foreign policy, and it doubtful whether Conservative backbenchers will now allow their Government to revert to any other style of diplomacy towards Europe." It was vital that Britain obtained a lifting of the beef ban, but equally vital that Britain then drew a line under the confrontation of recent weeks, Mr Cook said.

Labour's "qualified support" for the Government's strategy would continue, he said, but the power of veto should not be applied "mindlessly" - action against fraud and aid to developing countries should not have been blocked - and nor should ministers act for party advantage. Mr Cook said social democracy remained the largest trend with within continental politics. The Conservative Party of Macmillan and Heath would have had no difficulty with the consensual commitment of the Europeans to social cohesion, but the Tories today looked to the New Right of America for political inspiration. "It is a twinning arrangement fostered by the American proprietorship of the newspapers which most avidly egg on the hostility of the Europhobes."

Labour was able to offer Britain a more successful relationship with Europe because it was at home with the European social model, the shadow foreign secretary said. Enlargement of the EU and jobs were the party's two first priorities.

The third was constructing a Europe which better connected with concerns of people - dealing with pollution, transferring power down to the regions and granting rights at work through adoption of the Social Chapter.

Mr Cook said it was important that politicians took seriously the questions arising at the Inter-Governmental Conference, but they should not imagine there was mass interest in the arithmetic of qualified majority voting.

"There is a danger that the debate in Brussels could disappear into orbit round the lonely planets of the European institutions, appearing increasingly out of touch with the concerns of people on the ground," he cautioned.