Clarke attacked over 'gullible Danes' jibe

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KENNETH CLARKE, the Home Secretary, was accused of insulting the Danish nation last night after he described as 'gullible' Danes who voted against the Maastricht treaty because they feared it would lead to conscription into a European army.

In a robust defence of European citizenship, Mr Clarke also commented on the Queen's status after Britain ratifies the treaty. Asked on the 10th day of the Committee Stage of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill whether the Queen would become a citizen of the union, Mr Clarke told MPs he would give further consideration to the question.

But he went on: 'I don't see why not. The Queen is undoubtedly a British national and she, being a national of the UK, is likely to become a citizen of the European union. I cannot think why she should be any more fearful of that prospect that anybody else.'

Sir Ivan Lawrence, Conservative MP for Burton, said that this would mean the Queen had a right to vote and stand for the Euoropean Parliament. She would be a citizen of a Euro-state whose president had similar rights to her own. 'Is it seriously suggested that the British people would have wanted Her Majesty the Queen to be a subject of M. Jacques Delors?'

Mr Clarke made common cause with his Labour shadow, Tony Blair, in dealing with what he called the 'blatant red herrings' trailed across the debate by Tory and Labour opponents of union. Treaty critics claimed citizenship implied a federal Europe and subordinating British nationality.

The most heated exchanges followed Mr Clarke's rejection of the idea that EC citizens would owe a duty to a European army, an issue which he said featured heavily in the Danish referendum, when a narrow majority voted against the treaty. It 'may have worked with a few gullible Danes', but it was a 'fanciful notion', he said.

Bill Cash, a leading Tory Euro- rebel, said: 'Is it not a disgraceful slur and insulting to a foreign nation to refer to them as 'gullible'? That is a remark which the Secretary of State should withdraw.'

Joking about the 'sounds of shock and outrage', Mr Clarke said: 'In so far as there were Danes who voted against Maastricht because they believed they were going to be conscripted into a European army, those Danes were gullible.' MPs who thought so were also gullible, he added.

Under the treaty all British nationals will become European citizens with a right to vote in local elections when living in another EC state, to consular services of other EC states, to petition the European Parliament and to take complaints of EC maladministration to a European ombudsman.

Mr Blair mocked those who he said were 'constructing an edifice of outrage'. European citizenship did not mean scrapping British nationality or subordinating it. It was part of 'progress towards a better and more stable world'.

Bryan Gould, who resigned from the Shadow Cabinet to oppose the treaty, argued for a referendum as concepts of democracy and self-government were at issue. His party ally, Peter Shore, accused the Labour front bench of being 'lulled into acquiesence'. They had 'not raised themselves to the intellectual level which this treaty requires'.