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?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific