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UK Politics

Major defends European stance: Prime Minister casts aside fury roused by Maastricht debate to indulge his passion for cricket

JOHN MAJOR said yesterday that he had been subjected to vilification and venomous attack by media and other critics because of his determined stand on Europe, writes Anthony Bevins.

Shrugging off a response by Lord Tebbit to the Danish referendum vote, the Prime Minister told BBC radio's Jimmy Young programme that the conditions for reconsidering re-entry into the exchange rate mechanism, let alone re-entry, did not apply and were 'unlikely to apply for some time . .' He also said: 'Norman Tebbit speaks his mind from a passionate conviction. I speak my mind from an equally passionate conviction. I don't want a federalist Europe any more than Norman does.'

But Mr Major also explained that it was the very passion aroused by the European question within the Conservative Party that had prompted the spate of highly personal attacks that had been levelled against him in recent months. 'I think anyone who had been Conservative prime minister over the last two years, with the difficulties there have been and the internal disputes . . . if it had been the Archangel Gabriel, he'd have suffered a great deal of criticism. That's what prime ministers are there for. I've got broad shoulders, I'm not going to respond in detail to that. That's part of the job, and I accept that as part of the job,' he said.

But he added: 'If I really were going to be rolled over so easily, why didn't I take the cheap and easy populist route on the Maastricht treaty and just follow all the rebels who said I should do something else? I could have earned a great deal of plaudits from many of the newspapers. But I didn't, and why didn't I? I didn't do it because I believed that what I was doing was right for the long-term future of the British nation and for the British economy. That's not weakness. That's conviction.'

Asked why he had been attacked so intensely, Mr Major said: 'It is Europe. They take a different view about European policy. I take the view that I believe is right for this country. They disagree . . . It is a gut instinct for the Conservatives. It arouses very great passions.'

(Photograph omitted)