Amsterdam summit: Blair's EU deal is a travesty, says Major r

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Indy Politics
Britain has become a leading player in Europe for the first time in many years, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons yesterday. Tony Blair claimed that he had fully achieved his objectives at the Amsterdam summit because he led a united government with a clear sense of direction on the European Union.

But in his last Commons appearance as Conservative Party leader, John Major described the treaty as "not a triumph but a travesty". The only useful parts of the deal were struck under his own government, he said, and the rest could only lead to more control by Brussels.

Mr Blair said he had protected Britain's interests over immigration, foreign policy and defence, and had promoted changes "of real interest to the British people".

On frontier controls, the UK would retain control of immigration, asylum and visas while other countries had chosen different arrangements. There would be greater co-operation on police, crime and drugs, and the European Court would have no authority to decide cases brought in the UK courts on those issues.

On jobs, Mr Blair said, the treaty would promote flexible labour markets, education and skills. It accepted Britain's belief that Europe's approach to employment and growth should be based on competitiveness, along with a new emphasis on getting people off welfare and into work.

It created the power to act against discrimination on grounds of sex, race, religion or disability.

The treaty would also prepare the institutions of Europe for enlargement, he added. In addition, there would be better co-ordination of foreign policy but Britain would retain its veto in the area.

A new action plan for the single market would lead to further opening of European markets to British companies. There would be a new emphasis on flexible labour markets and reform of wasteful policies in agriculture and elsewhere.

An agreement on quota-hopping would prove a major disincentive to foreign fishermen using British-registered boats. On EMU, Mr Blair said he had made it clear that the entry conditions should be strictly applied.

"We are determined not to let Europe get bogged down again in minutiae. If we are to build a people's Europe, we must stay focused on the people's concerns. We made Britain's voice heard at Amsterdam because for the first time for many years Britain spoke as a united government with a clear direction for Europe," he said.

Mr Major said Britain had given in to moves towards a more integrated Europe on defence, on the role of the European Court of Justice in asylum and immigration cases and on jobs, he said.

The employment chapter of the treaty would create expectations which could not be met. The treaty would do nothing to meet the aim of a wider Europe which both he and Mr Blair shared, he added.

"This is both a botched and incomplete negotiation. It will certainly cause dismay in central and Eastern Europe," he said.

"What he has reported is not a triumph but a travesty."