Blair and Cook go on offensive against the myth-making Eurosceptics

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Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and Tony Blair will go on the offensive against Eurosceptics today in the first of a series of speeches aimed at softening public opinion before next month's European summit in Nice.

Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and Tony Blair will go on the offensive against Eurosceptics today in the first of a series of speeches aimed at softening public opinion before next month's European summit in Nice.

The initiative is designed to allay fears that opponents of the European Union are seizing the agenda by using aggressive campaigning tactics.

The sceptics have said that EU proposals to extend qualified majority voting would remove control over taxes and social security from Britain, which under the present rules can exercise a national veto. But in speeches today, Mr Cook and Mr Blair will argue that remaining at the heart of Europe is the only way to retain national sovereignty.

"I am not prepared to stand aside and let other European countries make the decisions that matter to us," Mr Blair will say in a speech at Mansion House in London. "Europe is essential to British investment, British industry, British jobs. To cut ourselves off from the major strategic alliance on our doorstep would be a supreme act of folly."

Mr Cook will tell the Centre for European Reform now is the time to "recapture the patriotic ground from the Euro-sceptics. It is time to destroy the myth of the superstate. We want there to be a debate about Europe on the basis on facts, not myths," he will say. "How do the Eurosceptics imagine that you can pursue your national interests in a global economy by isolating yourself?"

A speech by Mr Cook on Thursday will reinforce the message that Europe is a union of nation states and that tough negotiation at the summit in France will ensure Britain's best interests.

An aide to the Foreign Secretary said the Eurosceptics had won publicity with a series of stories about how Britain's interests would be damaged by the proposed Treaty of Nice. One such story published yesterday said a defence treaty to be signed at the meeting would allow an "inner core" of countries led by France to take key decisions on international affairs. "That is myth, not fact," the aide said.

* Ministers will announce more than £4bn for schools, hospitals and roads after Gordon Brown's pre-Budget statement last Wednesday. The handouts will cover the main areas of spending including health, education and the socially disadvantaged.

Children from the poorest families will benefit from £450m and there will also be money for literacy schemes, crime prevention and health schemes.

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