Hurd lifts level of EU debate: Tories told 'we cannot choose our continent'

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The Independent Online
DOUGLAS HURD, the Foreign Secretary, last night made a powerful appeal for Britain to recover its self-confidence and accept that as Europeans 'we cannot pick and choose to which continent we belong'.

Mr Hurd used his speech at the Lord Mayor of London's Easter banquet at Mansion House to deliver his second implicit but unmistakeable warning in a month to anti-Europeans in his own party that 'our European policy is not an optional extra. It is not a luxury. It is essential.'

But he also made his most concerted effort yet to raise the level of debate on foreign policy beyond narrow squabbles over European mechanisms and define the country's role in a rapidly changing world. He declared: 'We cannot stop the world in order to get off.'

Mr Hurd warned: 'At present we run the risk of intellectual shrinkage, as if we despaired of convincing anybody of anything, as if we simply wanted to devise ways of protecting ourselves against a Europe and a world which was bound to run against us. This is negative and damaging nonsense.'

He insisted that Britain had the 'instincts, experience and assets' to help 'shape our continent and our world'.

He said 'a thriving Europe makes for a prosperous Britain. A stable Europe reinforces stability in Britain. A strong European voice in world affairs gives Britain a stronger voice in the world.' This did not mean 'accepting the dogma of gradual centralisation in Europe,' and Mr Hurd acknowledged that 'so far the European institutions have tended to answer criticism of what they are already doing by stretching out to do more. That is a mistake. You don't cure indigestion by ordering an extra course of the meal.'

The Foreign Secretary added: 'It is equally European, indeed I believe more profoundly European, to devise a Union which is certainly more than a single market, but which defines what we must do as Europeans and concentrates on doing that successfully.'

The tasks ahead in Europe included enlargement of the EU which he said 'should be one of the crowning decisions of the European Parliament in its last weeks. He added: 'If it failed to meet this challenge the consequences would be grave, not least for the standing of the European Parliament itself.'

Beyond that lay the opportunity to open the West's political and defence institutions to the East. That included trade liberalisation, Mr Hurd said, adding: 'It is no good being generous in words towards the East or even in technical assistance if we seize every excuse to close particular markets to their goods.'