Brussels funds campaign to combat sceptics

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Indy Politics
A Pro-European alliance of politicians and businessmen is to use public funding to campaign against the growing Euro-sceptic tendency in Britain.

The European Movement plans to post its own tabloid newspaper to a million homes, many in areas where the Referendum Party is running candidates in the general election.

The group plans to spend pounds 250,000 on its campaign, pounds 150,000 of which will be provided by the European Commission. The group's leaders said Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party was spending pounds 2m on its campaign, which is posting an anti-European paper to every home in Britain. Yesterday Edwina Currie, vice-chair of the European Movement, said it was important to make sure people were aware of the benefits of being in Europe.

"There are dozens and dozens of good reasons for us being in the EU. In other countries the governments are doing this. If our government won't do it, we will do it," she said.

The group, which is supported by the Conservative European Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, and by MPs from all parties, has said it will not send out its newspaper during the election campaign but will do so beforehand or afterwards.

The paper, Europe 97, is meant to counter the growing feeling on the political right that Britain should pull out of Europe altogether.

The campaign has received the backing of industrialists and of trades unionists. At its launch, the general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union, Ken Jackson, said withdrawal from Europe would cost the jobs of many of his members.

"Thousands of them work for inward investors - companies who have set up shop here to gain access to the European single market. The vast majority of Britain's trade is with Europe, and that is linked to millions of jobs here in the UK," he said.

Sir Leon used yesterday's launch to attack Euro-sceptics in his own party, who he accused of diverting attention from the real issues. "We do not have a healthy debate in the UK at the moment. Europe has become an issue against which to vent prejudices and grind axes rather than a subject of civilised debate. The British people deserve better," he said.

Robin Cook, Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, brought a positive European message to Brussels yesterday, saying Labour would play a leading role in the European "team".

However, Mr Cook confirmed that Labour would continue the present government's policy of demanding an "opt out" from plans to end European frontier controls and cede more powers to Brussels over immigration and asylum.

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