Chancellor is criticised for 'negative views' on Europe

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Gordon Brown was accused of undermining the European cause by making constant attacks on the EU when he held a stormy meeting with supporters of further integration yesterday.

Gordon Brown was accused of undermining the European cause by making constant attacks on the EU when he held a stormy meeting with supporters of further integration yesterday.

The Chancellor came under fire after inviting leaders of the Britain in Europe campaign to the Treasury. What was billed as a chance to discuss tactics before the planned referendum on the European constitution turned into frank exchanges.

Guests, led by Lord Howe of Aberavon, the former foreign secretary, and Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, the former European commissioner, told Mr Brown that his negative approach towards Brussels and Britain's EU partners would reduce the prospects of winning the referendum. The Chancellor has infuriated pro-Europeans by trumpeting Britain's economic performance as better than most other EU nations and launching a series of pre-emptive strikes before meetings of EU finance ministers.

Brussels is seething about Mr Brown's latest sideswipe about a report, produced by the Siemens boss Alan Wood, arguing that British firms were locked out of other EU countries' public procurement projects. Mr Brown, who had promised to raise the matter with EU finance ministers on Tuesday, did so only briefly and then left the meeting.

Yesterday's meeting included politicians from all parties, businessmen and trade union leaders. Although they welcomed the talks, one of the delegation said afterwards: "There was a blunt exchange of views. We asked Gordon to make the case for the constitution and to present it as vital to the reforms we want to see in Europe, not a take-it-or-leave-it choice."

Another said: "We need to make allies in Europe and change public opinion at home. You don't do that by accusing everyone else of not playing by the rules and saying the other EU economies are a basket case."

The Brown camp reacted angrily. A Labour source accused Mr Brown's critics of giving an "inaccurate account" and insisted the criticism had come from two former Tory ministers. A Treasury source said: "We will never win the case for Britain's place in Europe by ducking issues of reform or by claiming that standing up for Britain is in some way anti- European. The Chancellor said that it is in both the British national interest and Europe's interests that Europe does not duck these issues and that the best way pro-Europeans in Britain can build a pro-European consensus is by pushing the arguments for Britain's membership of the EU and putting the case for economic reform."

Yesterday the outgoing European commissioner for the internal market, Frits Bolkestein, accused the Treasury of damaging the EU's image in the UK by misrepresenting the Commission's motives and using Eurosceptic rhetoric. The claims came in a letter of complaint over comments made by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, John Healey, after a dispute over the treatment of "booze-cruise travellers" by UK customs officers.

Mr Bolkestein said he was surprised by Mr Healey's "assertion that I have an axe to grind against the UK because of your Government's opposition to plans for tax harmonisation attributed to my person and to EU red tape".

Mr Bolkestein insisted he opposes harmonising tax rates and wants to cut regulation. He added: "Any suggestion by UK ministers that the European Commission is threatening the UK with supposed EU initiatives that do not exist or is against reducing the administrative burden on companies is damaging to the public image of the EU."