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
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence