Labour disarray over Maastricht

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A SPLIT has opened up between Labour MPs and their colleagues in the European Parliament over the Maastricht treaty.

Labour MEPs who are members of the Tribune Group were horrified by the stand taken by Peter Hain, secretary of the group, who has urged voting against the treaty when it is brought before the House again.

About 25 Labour MEPs are members of the Tribune group, but they claim that they were not consulted by Mr Hain over his initiative. A document circulated by him on the issue was a 'sixth-form essay' displaying little understanding of the issues, a Socialist MEP said yesterday. At a meeting on Wednesday night, MEPs considering resigning en masse from the Tribune Group, but backed away.

Instead, they have written a letter of complaint to Mr Hain expressing their 'concern and resentment', the MEP said.

Mr Hain's advice to vote against the treaty has already caused deep unhappiness within other sections of the party, which fears that it will lead to Labour being branded as anti-European.

Much of the opposition in the party, including that of Mr Hains, stems from the fact that Britain has opted out of sections of the treaty dealing with employment and social affairs. But the Socialist MEPs believe that overturning the treaty in Britain is not the best way to go about changing the Government's position, and merely runs the risk of derailing any attempt to reform the EC.

Members of the Socialist Group in the Strasbourg parliament will use the visit by the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, next week to attack Britain's decision to opt out on social policy.

They are angry that Britain, which holds the EC presidency, has only scheduled one meeting of the social affairs council, and that social policy has not been given a higher billing in the UK's priorities for the next six months. 'He will be given a rough ride,' a Socialist official said yesterday.

Mr Hurd visits the parliament on Wednesday to lay out the Government's plans for the British presidency.

The Institute of Public Policy Research recently said that it might be neccessary for the European parties to take positions that were at odds with their national counterparts, in the interests of promoting European unity.