Major rallies Tories against Thatcher

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR confronted his party's Thatcherite resistance to Maastricht last night with a blunt repudiation of the position taken by Baroness Thatcher in her maiden speech to the House of Lords.

Just an hour after her speech, the Prime Minister told an end-of-term meeting of the backbench Tory 1922 Committee that if the Thatcher government had pitched in to negotiate at the heart of the EC, as he had done, some of the power that had been handed over to Brussels would not now need to be recovered.

Emphasising that there was no one in the party more hostile than he was to the concept of a federal Europe, Mr Major rejected the 'little England' approach of those who wanted the United Kingdom sidelined.

'I don't want a Europe led by France and Germany, with us tailing away in the rear. That would be disastrous for everyone who lives in this country,' he said in a speech greeted with a minute-long ovation from the ranks of supporters packed into a Commons committee room.

However, Lady Thatcher's stance against her successor was defiant in her 27-minute speech to a crowded Lords chamber. She repeated her call for a referendum, and made it clear that she would vote against the Bill to ratify the Maastricht treaty when it reached the Lords.

The new peeress argued that the Government should use its presidency of the EC to restate the 'Luxembourg compromise', allowing member states to block decisions on issues of vital national importance.

Lady Thatcher also rejected as 'misplaced' Mr Major's comparison of the Maastricht treaty with the Single European Act, which she signed, and which ministers argue was far more centralist in its effect.

Mr Major told the 1922 Committee that Maastricht had not created economic and monetary union, extended the scope of qualified majority voting, or even formulated European union.

'There should be no doubt that what we want is more power to remain with national governments and for some powers which have already been given up to be repatriated and returned to national governments,' he said.

Underlining that point, he added: 'If we had been negotiating from the centre throughout the last 20 years, we might have had more influence on the developments of the Community than has in fact been the case.'

'I do not want us to be a little England; impoverished, devoid of influence, sour in isolation, bereft of hope, languishing on either the sidelines of Europe or the sidelines of history,' Mr Major said.

In a concurrent Commons debate, Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, laid down the main theme of the UK presidency when he told MPs: 'We want the Community, the Commission and the Council to pull back from activities and proposals for purposes which can just as well be handled by member states.'

He said the Commission had on Wednesday accepted Mr Major's 'clear steer' that ratification of Maastricht had to be preceded by urgent work on 'the principle of minimum interference, not just to future proposals but to existing legislation'.

The division between necessary and unnecessary interference had to be clarified, and Mr Hurd said: 'That is the work we have to do before the Treaty of Maastricht comes into effect.'

The Prime Minister also told the 1922 Committee meeting that public spending restraint was 'crucial', and that 'an end to inflation' could be achieved before the next election. 'We must not let that chance slip,' he warned.

Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told Conservative Newsline yesterday that although spending plans allowed for inflation plus 3 per cent this year, and inflation plus 2.75 per cent next year, 'lower increases' would be necessary in the future.

Parliament, page 6

Leading article, page 18

Peter Kellner, page 19