Election '97: Echoes of Thatcher as Major takes hard line

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Indy Politics
The intransigent line to be taken by the Conservatives on Europe was illustrated by the Prime Minister yesterday when he echoed the "no, no, no" line taken by Margaret Thatcher in 1990.

John Major said that within six weeks of the election, an Amsterdam summit would be held on the future direction of the European Union, and one of two party leaders would be there to represent the British people. "Either it will be me, and I will say 'no' to the retrenchment of the veto, 'no' to the social chapter, 'no' to the employment chapter, and 'no' to the policies that would damage this country. Or it will be a Labour prime minister who has already indicated that he will say 'yes' to all these things and he would not be isolated in Europe.

"But I just have to say to you and to him, if he is not prepared to be isolated in Europe, then he cannot represent the British interest in Europe."

The manifesto section on Europe begins: "We believe that in an uncertain, competitive world, the nation state is a rock of security ... Nationhood gives people a sense of belonging."

It is beyond doubt that a Tory prime minister would resist any further changes towards centralised decision-making in Brussels, reducing sovereignty, or removing the right to further British opt-outs. But the manifesto repeats that Mr Major would go much further than that at the Amsterdam summit, with a demand for a repatriation of rights that have been eroded since the Maastricht Treaty.

Not only would there be resistance to any threat to British frontier controls, or the extension of European citizenship, but a Tory government would "insist that any new treaty recognises that our opt-out from the social chapter enables Britain to be exempt from the working time directive, and prevents any abuse of our opt-out".

As for the single currency, the manifesto repeats the Cabinet line agreed on 23 January that it is unlikely to go ahead, but that if it does, and is fudged, then Britain will not be part of it, and will argue for delay beyond January 1999. However, in the unlikely circumstances of Tory agreement to join the currency, there would be a guarantee "that no such decision would be implemented unless the British people gave their express approval in a referendum".