In the first big speech by a senior right-of-centre member of the Cabinet endorsing the 'multi-track' concept set out by John Major and the Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, Mr Howard went further than any of his colleagues so far in threatening use of the veto in 1996.
Mr Howard said: 'We hope that the next round of inter- governmental conferences will produce a sensible agreement which every member state can support.
'But we will not hesitate to use the veto to stop an agreement which threatens our national interest.'
Mr Howard's speech, heavily anti-federalist in tone, came as Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, accused Mr Major of having 'now entered into a discreditable Faustian bargain with his own extreme right wing in order to try and preserve the Conservative Party's position and his own position afterwards'. Mr Ashdown, electioneering in Cardiff, said all the signs were that the Tories were in 'for a serious drubbing' on 9 June.
Further evidence for Mr Ashdown's prediction was furnished yesterday by a Systems Three poll for the Herald newspaper in Glasgow suggesting Labour support in Scotland had shot up by 9 points to 53 - with sympathy at the death of John Smith one possible factor. The poll showed the Tories at 10 points, the Scottish National Party at 27 and the Liberal Democrats at 12.
The Home Secretary acknowledged in his speech that there were 'some basic unchanging requirements' for those joining the EU, including 'first and foremost' a single market in goods and services governed by common rules and standards. There should also be 'free movement for citizens of member states to live and work throughout the community', and there was a need for 'common institutions to make decisions and see that they are enforced'.
He added: 'What we need is a made-to-measure Europe in which the institutional arrangements comfortably fit national interests, not an off- the-peg standard size Europe, ill-fitting and splitting at the seams.'
He attacked both Labour and the Liberal Democrats for accusing the Tories of being 'Little Englanders', and said their advocacy of a 'federal European state' made them 'little Europeans'.
Mr Howard's intervention in a speech in Hythe, Kent, came as Mr Hurd suggested that after the divisions of Maastricht there was now a prospect of a 'platform on which the overwhelming majority of Conservatives can work together'.
Labour responded by charging that Tory divisions were such that finding such a platform had been the their main priority.Reuse content