Beleaguered Major under fire over policies and Maastricht: Sacked minister leads attack as EC commissioner fuels Tory federalist fears

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The Independent Online
THE PRIME MINISTER looked increasingly beleaguered yesterday after a European Commissioner fuelled Conservative fears of a federalist agenda and a former minister complained he had been sacked by John Major for speaking his mind.

'We have a regime unwilling to tolerate dissent, and afraid of views different from its own. There is little respect for the judgement of others, and I was one of the others,' Edward Leigh, Under-Secretary for Trade and Industry until last Thursday, said.

An unalloyed Thatcherite, Mr Leigh's attack in an article in the Spectator magazine was the latest in a series of public outbursts since the reshuffle in which he has called for a fight back against domination of economic, industrial and foreign policy by the left of the Tory party.

Mr Major's problems with the anti- Maastricht faction in his party were aggravated by a warning from Hans van den Broek, EC Commissioner for foreign affairs, that the 'common European future' envisaged in the treaty 'should in no way be watered down'. Mr van den Broek, speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World at One, supported the call by Chancellor Kohl of Germany and four other leaders for a special summit after the Maastricht treaty is ratified to maintain the pace to European union. 'The broad objectives of this union are quite clear; a political, economic and monetary union and common foreign and security policy as an objective, but implementing it is another question,' he said. Guidance by heads of government was 'extremely necessary'.

A spokeswoman at Mr Major's office said the Government would be ready to 'play a full part' in such a summit: 'The Prime Minister supports the idea of a summit to celebrate the completion of the treaty and to help put it into effect.' But she said Chancellor Kohl's call was 'a little premature' as Germany and Britain had still to ratify. Staging a special summit would be a matter for Belgium, which takes over the EC presidency next month.

Mr Major is expected to use his address to the Conservative women's conference today to dispel some of the gloom afflicting the party and give a clearer idea of the policy direction of his reshuffled Cabinet.

Bill Cash, Tory MP for Stafford and leading opponent of the treaty legislation, said Mr Major should say 'no' to a summit. Mr van den Broek had confirmed the 'absolutely determined drive to federalism'. By going along with it Mr Major's policy was 'really based on defeatism . . . We are not just on a slippery slope to federalism as much as a helter-skelter'.

Mr Leigh spoke of his despair at having to vote for Maastricht legislation as a minister and against his conscience because the whips would not allow him to be absent for the Third Reading vote on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.

An opinion poll in today's Daily Telegraph shows that both Mr Major and the Government are held in lower esteem than any other premier or administration since polling began in Britain in the 1930s. Only 13.8 per cent of voters say they approve of the Tories' record and only 21 per cent are satisfied with the Prime Minister, according to the Gallup poll.