Foreign policy is `sullen and anti-German'

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Indy Politics

Political Correspondent

The anti-German attitude of an increasingly Euro-sceptical Conservative Party came under fierce attack last night from Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader.

Denouncing the "sullen xenophobia" driving Government foreign policy in a foreign affairs speech in London, Mr Ashdown said that rebuilding alliances, especially with Germany, was the number one foreign policy task for the next British government.

"One of the worst aspects of Britain's current political debate is that it has become acceptable in Conservative circles to talk about Germany and the Germans in the same tone which English politicians reserved for the Jews 80 years ago and for the Irish a century ago.

"The tone we hear from some who should know better, and from a Europhobic press which supports them, seems tinged with an envious bitterness about a Germany which has regained its place as Europe's strongest economy and established a thriving constitutional democracy."

Earlier, Mr Ashdown and Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, predicted that there would be little in next week's White Paper on the Inter- Government Conference that would induce the party to support the Government when the paper is debated in the House - in contrast to the support it gave during the Maastricht treaty.

The Liberal Democrat leader said in the speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs that since the old foreign policy anchor of the Berlin Wall had come down, "nostalgia mixed with Europhobia has shut off intelligent debate". What was needed was a new international strategy.

Urging the need for "preparing for the day when we Europeans have collectively to manage our own security and defence", with less input from the US, Mr Ashdown said progress towards an effective common foreign and security policy within Europe should be seen as serving Britain's interests, not threatening them.

Britain should also demand radical reform of the United Nations, including a military planning staff to oversee UN peace-keeping operations and the establishment of a pool of UN peace-keepers. It should push for the empty Greenwich Royal Naval College to be used as a UN staff college, he said.

Mr Ashdown emphasisedthat while he would back EU defence and security decisions being made on a majority vote, states should retain a veto on whether to deploy troops.