Major rejects referendum on EU 'superstate'

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The Independent Online
The Prime Minister yesterday risked a renewed battle with Conservative Euro-sceptics by rejecting the growing pressure for a referendum on the threat of a European superstate.

With the Conservatives facing a potentially damaging split in the Commons this week, in a vote forced by Labour over the Common Agricultural Policy, Mr Major told the Scottish Conservative Party conference in Aberdeen that Britain did not need a fresh referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union.

"While I am Prime Minister, if others should opt for such a Europe, then Britain will not be part of such a federal Europe. We don't need a referendum to know that we don't want a centralised Europe," Mr Major said.

His attempt to persuade the Euro-sceptics to end the renewed civil war in the Tory ranks came as it was disclosed that Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, made an appeal for unity last week at a private meeting of Tory MPs at the Commons. One senior source said: "It was a very frank meeting."

The Tory Euro-sceptics are determined to keep up the pressure, and Bill Cash, the leading Tory Euro-rebel, will force a vote next month in the Commons on a referendum to pull Britain out of Europe.

The former cabinet minister John Redwood has been trying to broker a deal with Sir James Goldsmith with a compromise Bill, to head off plans by the international financier to field Referendum Party candidates at the next election.

The Prime Minister made it clear that he would accept no deals with Mr Redwood or Sir James. Senior Cabinet colleagues shrugged off the threat from Sir James, arguing that Tories who vote for his Referendum Party will not have voted Conservative.

Firing the opening shot in the general election campaign, Mr Major told Tony Blair that "lust for power is not enough", but his fighting speech underlined the anxiety of the Tories at the Labour leader's appeal.

Taking a sideswipe at sections of the normally supportive press which have become increasingly hostile to the Prime Minister, Mr Major said: "Some people on the cocktail and chattering circuit think it's time for a change. As though government were a game of street cricket with everyone having a bat in turn. But what sort of change?"

He added: "The changes Labour plan, no matter how slickly packaged and presented by their media gurus, would destroy in years what has been built up in centuries."