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PM fires salvo in Europe campaign

JOHN MAJOR yesterday fired the opening shots in the Conservative Euro-election campaign with an onslaught against the Labour and Liberal Democrat vision of a 'centralised, inward-looking and job- destroying Europe'.

But a speech underlining the Prime Minister's fundamental economic aims to Scottish businessmen was denounced by Margaret Beckett, Labour's deputy leader, for omitting all mention of low taxes.

Attacking the 'Business Plan for Britain' announced by John Smith, the Labour leader, last week for its lack of details, Mr Major said: 'He has none - only slogans. We're told the plan means 'investing' in Britain. More investment? Where from? Not higher taxes or higher borrowing, says Gordon Brown. From where then? From thin air?'

While the printed text of the Prime Minister's speech omitted the 'back-to-basics' nostrum, prompting speculation that he might drop it, Mr Major reaffirmed his commitment during radio interviews - insisting it was neither a slogan, nor the subject of wide criticism within the Tory party.

Jobs, prosperity and competitiveness would be the key issues in the 9 June contests for the European Parliament, Mr Major said, adding: 'The British people will face a very stark choice between two visions of Europe.'

As Mr Major strove to highlight the distinction between a 'right or left' Europe, Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, attempted to paper over deep divisions in the Conservative ranks by distancing himself from the manifesto of the centre-right European People's Party, the coalition of Euro-conservatives which supports the Social Chapter and a single currency.

'Our candidates will not be bound by, nor will they stand upon, the European People's Party manifesto,' Sir Norman said.

Mr Major said the Tories' programme was to get the economic fundamentals right so that the recovery strengthened and lasted, 'creating jobs and spreading wealth more widely'.

Labour sought to make further capital yesterday from the pounds 1,160 'Tory tax bombshell' extracted on Thursday in Treasury parliamentary answers. Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, denounced it as 'economic incompetence'.