Major pleads with angry Brittan not to quit EU post

John Major has pressed Sir Leon Brittan, the top British official in the European Union, not to resign. Sir Leon is to decide over the next few days whether or not to give up his job on the European Commission following the loss of a key part of his job in a political carve-up on Saturday.

Sir Leon's departure would trigger a crisis for the Prime Minister, crystallising his problems over Europe. Sir Leon, external trade commissioner and former Cabinet minister, is one of the most prominent Conservative supporters of the EU. The decision to strip Sir Leon of part of his portfolio was made by Jacques Santer, the new president of the commission, despite personal lobbying by Mr Major late last week in an effort to ensure that Sir Leon kept his East European affairs brief.

The Prime Minister telephoned Sir Leon to express solidarity and tell him that he shared his disappointment. He also made clear the importance the British government attaches to Sir Leon staying on.

Sir Leon remains in charge of trade and relations with the US, Japan and other developed countries. But the prize job was given to Hans van den Broek, the Dutch commissioner, leaving Sir Leon bitter and defeated. He said on Saturday he was ``considering the position'' and his officials said he would decide in the next few days whether or not to resign.

If he quits, Britain must nominate another commissioner, who would by tradition be a Tory. This would set the Government the problem of finding a candidate acceptable to the party, which given the Tory split on Europe might not be possible. It is by no means certain that the new nominee would get such a high profile job as trade, which the Government regards as crucial.

There are two versions of why Sir Leon lost. The first is that it resulted from Mr Santer's weakness. On Friday, he told Sir Leon that he could have Eastern Europe but Mr van den Broek ``went ballistic'' and on Saturday Mr Santer changed his mind. The new president tried to avoid making a decision at all, asking the commission to vote on the issue, but was rebuffed.

The second version is that Mr Santer never gave the job to Sir Leon, but offered it to him as one of several package deals if Mr van den Broek accepted. But he refused, which meant the deal was void. Sir Leon boxed himself in by refusing to deal, even when it became clear that he would lose. On this version, Sir Leon misplayed the situation politically.

Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, will be transport commissioner, which will involve co-ordinating multi-billion-pound road and rail networks. Mr Kinnock was supportive of Sir Leon on Saturday, according to those present, and gave a good performance on his first outing.

The Downing Street view on Sir Leon was strongly endorsed by Lord Howe, who said on BBC Radio 4's The World this Weekend: ``I can well understand his disappointment at the reduction in his job's scope which has taken place.'' But the former foreign secretary added: ``I hope that he will remain there because he is an invaluable force for good across the whole political agenda.''

However, one of the most prominent of the Tory rebels over the Maastricht treaty, James Cran, said the Santer move was ``a slap in the face to those of us who would like a widened Europe rather than a deepened Europe''.

As the Opposition seized on the snub as evidence of British isolation in Europe, Labour's Pauline Green, the Socialists' leader in the European Parliament, accused Sir Leon of acting ``like a spoilt child''. Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrats' European spokesman, said the allocation was the result of Tory ``disarray'' on the EU.

(Photograph omitted)

Countdown to defeat, page 10

Leading article, page 15

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen