Major tells Euro-MPs: 'Go boil your heads'

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The Independent Online
John Major has plunged into a fresh row over Europe after telling some Tory Euro-MPs to "go and boil their heads".

The Prime Minister's outburst came at the height of a fractious meeting with the MEPs before the party conference, and yesterday cast a shadow over the Tories' truce over Europe.

Some MEPs want Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, to attend a European Parliament committee of inquiry into the BSE crisis. But Mr Major told them no minister of the crown would ever appear when summoned by the European Parliament. Those calling for him to do so should "go and boil their heads", he added.

One of those present said Mr Major was clearly angry and in "hot blood" during the exchanges. Another described the mood as "testiness verging on crossness".

The expression "go and boil your head" is described in Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Slang as "a proletarian injunction not to be silly", and was coined in 1933.

The MEPs also received short shrift from the Prime Minister when they pressed him over economic and monetary union. Mr Major responded: "I know what I think about monetary union. I made up my mind a long time ago. But I'm not telling you." Several of those present interpreted that comment as an expression of Mr Major's contempt for their role as Euro-MPs.

The Prime Minister's barely-disguised disdain for the European Parliament was reflected in a recent attack on another senior figure at the institution. Only a week ago, at the Dublin summit, Mr Major described remarks made by Klaus Hansch, the president of the European Parliament, as "offensive".

The encounter with MEPs, which took place in the Cabinet room, fell on the same day as a big police seizure of IRA arms in London. Mr Major was said to feel irritated that, while he was dealing with big issues, internal critics were "aiming at him with pea-shooters".

Mr Hogg has already refused once to appear before the committee, sending the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Richard Packer, in his place. But Lord Plumb, a Conservative MEP who was not at the Downing Street meeting, is hoping to persuade a three-man team from the inquiry to visit Britain to take evidence. If this takes place, Mr Hogg is likely to be asked again to appear.

Mr Major was facing Euro troubles on other fronts last night. The UK Independence Party said a "leading Tory Euro-sceptic MP" was on the verge of defecting to its ranks. Teresa Gorman, the Euro-sceptic MP for Billericay, denied she was the prospective defector, but the Press Association quoted a party source as saying she "was going to defect here today" but had had second thoughts.

Meanwhile Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party started a publicity blitz with double-page advertisements in today's newspapers ahead of his party conference at the weekend.

And ministers are bracing themselves for defeat when the European Court delivers its verdict on a directive that would set a maximum numbers of hours that employers can require their staff to work in a week.

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John Lichfield, page 21