Major takes tough line on Europe's integration

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The Independent Online
John Major yesterday toughened his public stance against further European integration by pledging to veto constitutional changes in 1996 and to oppose outright any attempt to introduce a single currency over the next two years.

He also went out of his way to express the strong hope that the nine "very Conservative" hard-line Tory Euro-rebels would work their way back into the fold by showing loyalty over the "weeks ahead".

Mr Major's display of his Euro-sceptic credentials at the opening of the 1995 political season came as ministers stepped up pressure on the rebels to back the Government in Wednesday's vote on an Opposition attempt to deprive the Tories of a built-in majority on crucial standing committees.

The Euro-rebels, whose loss of the whip cost the Government its majority and sparked the vote, meet tomorrow to decide whether to support the party, amid signs that, whether they do or not, it will win with Ulster Unionist backing. Defeat would throw legislative plans into chaos.

In his clearest effort yet to map out the progress of political and economic negotiations within the EU between now and 1997, the Prime Minister left himself the last-resort option of a referendum on the outcome of the 1996 inter-governmental conference on the EU's future.

But in an upbeat interview on BBC TV's Breakfast With Frost, Mr Major made it clear he did not expect constitutional changes to result from the conference and that, if they did, he would use Britain's powers to block them so a referendum would not arise.

Only "if in some fashion that I cannot fathom something emerges . . . that I cannot block," would he keep open the possibility of such a referendum.

And, while not undermining his neutrality on the long-term issue of monetary union, he was explicit for the first time that he would not recommend a single currency to Parliament if some countries tried to bring it about in 1996 or 1997.

First, Britain would not have qualified by being in the exchange rate mechanism; second, the Government had no plans for the required legislation making the Bank of England independent and, third, there was no question of the necessary economic convergence in Europe by then.

As Labour spokesmen lined up to accuse Mr Major of appeasing his hardest-line critics on Europe, there was a cool reaction among the rebels last night, with Sir Teddy Taylor pointing to yesterday's Mori poll which showed much higher-than-expected supportfor their stance at the grassroots.

The poll, in the Mail on Sunday, showed 89 per cent of voters supported Sir Teddy's stance in his Southend East constituency.

Sir Teddy, who has let it be known that he would stand as an independent as a last resort, said if the Government wanted rebel support on Wednesday, it should appoint some to standing committees.

y Tony Blair, the Labour leader, will this morning unveil a three- part parliamentary attack on the Conservatives for 1995, designed to force them to reverse curbs on mortgage help for the unemployed and the privatisation of British Rail - while at the same time seeking to shame them into legislative controls on top executive salaries.