Major finds solution to EU puzzle

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As he prepared to head up the Khyber Pass today, John Major, came under sniper fire from his Tory rebels for suggesting that he may have "unlocked" the European problem for the Tories.

The Prime Minister, speaking to journalists accompanying his trip to India and Pakistan, clearly had his mind on the issue allegedly still causing him sleepless nights at home.

He confided in the travelling party that he believed he knew how to resolve the question of "flexibility" - the troubled attempt to find a way of allowing EU member states to progress in some policy areas at different speeds. "Yes, I can see a way of unlocking it," he said.

Mr Major added: "We still have to negotiate our way through. But I can see how it can be done. I will endeavour to see it is done in the discussions over the next few months." It may have been the curry, or the heat, or both. But the "key" to unlocking the mysteries of flexibility was seen as nothing more than a mirage back home by Tory Euro- sceptic MPs.

Bill Cash warned it would lead to appeasement. He said: "We sold the pass at the Maastricht Treaty by agreeing that we would never veto the other member states from going ahead, while taking an opt-out ourselves. This is creating federalism, not stopping it."

But Mr Major was adamant: "I think I will be able to make progress with that, yes. I doubt that progress will be finalised until Amsterdam. It is likely, as it was in Maastricht, it will all come together in the endgame, I would guess. So we may make some progress before then, but I think it will only be enshrined in treaty form when the heads of government meet in Amsterdam."

Mr Major will today take the route followed by smugglers over the centuries when he visits the Khyber Pass in a bid to think up ways of choking off Britain's heroin supply.

One aide to Mr Major said: "He is aware he will get all the cracks like `Carry on up the Khyber', but as well as wanting to see the Khyber Pass, he believes the only way to find solutions to the drug supply problem is by going to see the place itself."

Mr Major yesterday met the ousted Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, who spoke of her fears that she could soon be jailed by the regime in her country..

Ms Bhutto joked with Mr Major about elections in Pakistan and Britain. She said: "I must say, Prime Minister, you have all the luck. When I met you last October, I thought you would be facing a general election before I was!"

Meanwhile, two Tory rebels who were angered by a government decision on a local hospital are due to meet the Secretary of state for Health, Stephen Dorrell, today.

Sir John Gorst, the MP for Hendon North, rocked the party last month by announcing he was withdrawing co-operation from the Government because of the treatment of a casualty unit at Edgware General Hospital.

He will be joined at his meeting with Mr Dorrell by Harrow East MP Hugh Dykes, who has been rumoured to be considering a similar protest.