Major lambasts Tory 'defeatists' on Europe: Prime Minister dismisses centralised EC as 'grandiose doodle'

THE CENTRALISERS of Brussels and the domestic defeatists who believed that Britain was always going to lose the European Community argument were taken on by John Major last night.

In an unusually robust speech, the Prime Minister told a London meeting of the Conservative Group for Europe that there was a simple choice: 'Outside Europe, Britain can survive; inside, we will thrive.'

Mr Major said membership was not without its problems. 'We joined late. We didn't make the rules. A lot of them don't suit us.'

But he said that the Maastricht treaty had been used as 'a scapegoat for the varied and nameless fears about Europe', most of them unrelated to the treaty. 'I have never pretended that Maastricht is perfect, but, warts and all, Maastricht makes Europe better.'

Turning then to the centralisers, he said he did not see Britain as a cog in a centralised European super-state; a picture painted by Baroness Thatcher and other EC critics.

'Of course, the Brussels centralisers haven't all gone away. But they are now running against the tide. A tide that will flow ever more strongly in the enlarged Community we ensured at Edinburgh. The idea of a centralised Europe had resonance in a Community of the Six. But for 12, soon 16, and eventually 20-plus nations, it is a grandiose doodle. It is not what the people of Europe want. We Conservatives must have the confidence and the sharp-edged determination to stay in the heart of the European debate, to win a Community of free, independent members. The nations must be free-standing - a colonnade, not a set of bars.'

Mr Major then turned to the British defeatists, saying that the Community was 'a small sea of perpetual negotiation', shaping its future by alliances between governments and ministers. Many who fear and oppose Europe,' he said, 'are like the fat boy in Pickwick. They want to make your flesh creep. They think we are always going to lose the argument in Europe. That is defeatist and wrong. We learnt to swim in that sea long ago.'

Curiously depicting Lady Thatcher's preferred alternative to the EC - association with an American free trade area - as 'a sugar-coated turnip' Mr Major said that EC opponents were moved by frustration. 'Frustration that we are no longer a world power. Frustration that nowhere is the nation state fully sovereign, free to conduct its policies without concerting with ruddy foreigners.

'There is frustration that some of the fixed and treasured aspects of our national life are subject to seemingly relentless change. They practise a sort of phantom grandeur, a clanking of unusable suits of armour.'

Mr Major said the country could not afford to submit to such 'despotism of nostalgia'.

He also dismissed as nonsensical the 'sly argument' that those who supported Europe put Britain's interests second. 'It's precisely because we put Britain's interest first that we need to be in there, shaping the new Europe. A new Europe that is larger, more open and less intrusive.

'That's not throwing away history, that's not knocking down traditions. We are digging straight ditches and putting layers of bricks into them - what builders call a foundation.'

But Mr Major added that those who said Europe was only about economics - 'a tower of brass' - forgot the gift of two generations of peace.

'The peace we have had in the West was not reached by the turn of a card. The ancient hatreds were composed and the ancient enemies conciliated with fearful singularity of purpose. Let's not forget that when we joined the Community, Spain, Portugal and Greece were still governed by men in sunglasses and epaulettes. The dictators were booted out. Stability and democracy have been locked in - by membership of the Community.'

Leading article, page 21

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent