Maastricht now vital, warns Hurd

DOUGLAS HURD, the Foreign Secretary, warned yesterday that Britain's influence in the battle to prevent the emergence of a European superstate would be 'lethally undermined' if Parliament failed to ratify the Maastricht treaty.

In an outspoken speech directed at Tory Euro-sceptics, he argued that rejection would marginalise British influence and throw the Community into institutional crisis, at a time when it needed to be looking outward.

Speaking in his constituency at Banbury, Oxfordshire, Mr Hurd said: 'After the Maastricht negotiations and the events of 1992 we can be sure that there will not be a centralised European superstate. But the battle with the centralisers is not over. They will kick against the new mood, but the tide of argument is with us - provided we continue the argument and do not retreat from it.'

He continued: 'At a time when the world is in turmoil, it would be Britain which would be seen as having prevented the Community from taking a decent part in the world. We should not be so immersed in the details of the paintwork that we forget the theme of the picture.'

Europe could only build a stable Community, Mr Hurd said, if it worked with the grain of public opinion and national sentiment.

'If we try to homogenise differing national identities then we shall fail and put in danger much of what has been achieved to date,' he warned delegates to the European conference of the Conservative Political Centre.

Meanwhile, the EC President, Jacques Delors, making a brief visit to a symposium on science in Oxford, remained discreetly diplomatic about Britain's slow ratification of the Maastricht treaty.

In a confused press conference, he said that British ratification was an internal matter. He made clear, however, that a Government defeat over amendment 27 to the Maastricht Bill, which removes the protocol on the Social Chapter from the treaty, would not derail the process in other countries.

Mr Delors said he was working 'discreetly for the reinforcement of the monetary co-operation between all the members of the Community'. He also said he would propose again to the Commission a directive forcing employers to disclose more information about their companies.

Lady Thatcher yesterday denounced as a slur on civilisation the 'failure' of Europe, Nato and the UN Security Council to take effective action to free the suffering people of Bosnia.

Speaking as the new Chancellor at Buckingham University, she said: 'What has happened to the conscience of the new Europe? Has it been discarded or forgotten in the very lands through which Christianity spread to the world? Has the habit of leadership been replaced by the doctrine of consensus, which paralyses the action needed to come to the aid of the tortured people who are our neighbours?'

Lady Thatcher added: 'The only way we can defeat the powers of darkness is by strong defence, advanced weaponry and a resolve to defend and protect the innocent from massacre and ethnic cleansing.'

(Photograph omitted)