Blair pours scorn on 'hysterical rant' by Hague

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Indy Politics

William Hague attacked the Prime Minister's stance on further European integration yesterday, accusing him of handing over Britain's rights and powers "slice by slice".

William Hague attacked the Prime Minister's stance on further European integration yesterday, accusing him of handing over Britain's rights and powers "slice by slice".

However, Tony Blair, addressing the Commons for the first time since the summer recess, dismissed his claims as a "hysterical rant", which was "blinded by dogma". He told the Tory leader during angry exchanges: "You have turned your party into a single-issue pressure group that is anti-Europe. You have turned your leadership over to the far-right Thatcherites. You may save your leadership and you may get some media backing. But it is playing a dangerous game of politics with the fundamental interests of Britain."

Mr Hague welcomed more European co-operation on drug trafficking, money laundering, fraud and thefts after agreements between member states at the weekend's European summit at Tampere, Finland. But he warned: "Isn't it important to ensure that, with such co-operation, we do not give away the right of this country to make its own decisions?"

In his opening statement, Mr Blair hailed the summit as "a successful council in which we engaged constructively with our European partners in support of British national interests".

He said ministers had "restated and safeguarded essential British national interests on asylum and immigration", as well as reaching agreements on law and order issues. Mr Hague insisted it was in the interests of Britain and Europe to argue the case for "a more flexible Europe of nation states cooperating together".

He added: "A government committed to that vision would be pressing for treaty amendments at the next intergovernmental conference that would allow nations greater flexibility. Isn't it Britain's responsibility to stand firm for this vision? Instead you are going along with and encouraging a more centralised, more bureaucratic, more interfering Europe."

He added that the right position for the Prime Minister should be to put forward an alternative to the report by the so-called "wise men" arguing for a "massive increase in qualified majority voting and the abolition of the national veto in key areas" rather than "persisting with your fraudulent insistence that the advancement of any alternative proposals means withdrawal from the EU".

He told the Prime Minister: "Why are you so content to be carried along with the tide to a single European state? What the great majority of the British public want from Europe is very straightforward. They want co-operation with other European nations on issues like fighting drugs. But what they do not want is ever more rights and powers of this country taken away slice by slice, with their own Prime Minister wielding the knife."

Mr Blair said: "The Thatcherites have won. They have taken it over. Not the back-seat driver any more, she's kicked him [Mr Hague] out of the front seat and she's now going to be driving that flat-backed lorry when it goes around the country." Of the "wise men's" report, he said: "There's no hidden agenda. We won't agree to any lifting of the veto in areas like tax or defence or our border controls."

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