Major makes a gritty riposte

This week both the Prime Minister and Tony Blair have made speeches on Britain's links with Europe. Anthony Bevins outlines their contrasting views on the crucial issues
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Britain was yesterday presented by John Major as the "grit in the European oyster", but in a warning to hardline dissidents within the Tory ranks he said there was no question of a pull-out: "It has never been Britain's way to cut and run."

The Prime Minister's speech on "The Future Of Europe" to an audience in the City could not have been more different in tone to the constructive and co-operative effort delivered by Tony Blair, the Labour leader, in Bonn on Tuesday.

While Mr Blair evidently preferred to work with the grain - without the sell-out depicted by the Tories - the Prime Minister chose instead to glorify British grit and celebrate the difference between the British and everyone else in the European Union.

He used the word, "different" seven times - three times in one sentence - and elevated "diversity" into a fully-fledged principle. Mr Major said: "Europe is not always comfortable for Britain. Our history is different from our partners and so, often, are our instincts. Of course, we have much more in common than divides us.

"But we are instinctive-free traders. Not all of our partners share those same instincts. Our 20th-century experiences are different, and so are many of our attitudes.

"Our politics are more black and white, more adversarial, more blood and thunder. So we are sometimes uneasy partners. Often, Britain is the grit in the European oyster. Thus mutual frustration is at a high level at the moment. But none of this alters the fact that Britain's place is in Europe."

The apparent lack of enthusiasm that pervaded Mr Major's speech - reflecting the increasingly Euro-sceptic mood within the ranks of his own party - was particularly evident in the way that he dealt with the question of British withdrawal.

He said: "While I have made clear that I will not allow Britain to be absorbed into centralised federal structures, neither do I contemplate turning our back on Europe . . . Our power of veto means we cannot be forced where we do not want to go. So of course Britain will stay in Europe, economic reality and self-interest demands that we do."

The question was not whether Britain was part of Europe, but what sort of Europe Britain was part of. It was a question of how relationships were developed that Britain could live with comfortably.

Diversity had to be accommodated. "That is why I have consistently said that we will not accept the pressure to develop Europe as a single train, with all the carriages moving at the same speed ... A Europe of Nations cannot be pre-determined.

"There is no pre-set destination. And if there is no pre-set destination, there are no trains to catch - or to miss."

Against that background, Mr Major said that two prime items were on his agenda for the forthcoming Inter-Governmental Conference on the future course of the European Union - the backdoor use of health and safety mechanisms to impose social chapter provisions like the Working Time Directive, and the overenthusiasm of the European Court of Justice.

The Prime Minister also set himself against any further extensions of qualified majority voting, an erosion of the British veto, and he warned that there could be "bumpy times" ahead.

"But it is nonsense," he added, "to suggest the only choice is to accept Europe as it is offered, or negotiate an exit.

"Our arguments about the future of Europe are arguments we must seek to win not just for Britain, but for Europe as a whole ... It would be absurd for us to stand aside from decisions which affect our vital national interests.

"The effect would be to sign ourselves out of decisions about our own future." But in a further hint of battle and resistance, he added: "We must engage as passionate partisans who care about the success of the Continent on which we live. The future of Europe is worth fighting for."

Letters, page 15




"Our politics are more black and white, more adversarial, more blood and thunder. So we are sometimes uneasy partners. Often Britain is the grit in the European oyster. This mutual frustration is at a high level at the moment. But none of this alters the fact that Britain's place is in Europe."


"While I have made it clear that I will not allow Britain to be absorbed into centralised, federal structures, neither do I contemplate turning our back on Europe ... It has never been Britain's way to cut and run. There is a big prize to win - for us and for Europe."


"Unless it stays competitive, Europe is in danger of losing its industrial base. Not in our time perhaps. But in the future. We might eat off the fat of the land, but the lean times would surely follow."


"The only job security, the only wealth creation, comes from the success of enterprise." CHALLENGE FROM


"In the 1970s and 1980s, the emergence of Japan as a major force in world markets caused substantial dislocation in many Western economies ... Since then we have seen the dramatic rise of the economic power of South-east Asia. But the impact of even those changes will be dwarfed when compared with the implications of a similar emergence ... by India, or China, or - more likely - both."


"A shared commitment to the building of an open, outward-looking, customer- driven economy in Europe is the essential foundation on which the European Union is built ... Over the years ahead, we must turn Europe towards a European enterprise model, with minimum burdens on business and more flexible labour markets."


"We ... see no case for further extensions of qualified majority voting. In areas of significant national interest, the Community must work by finding solutions which can be accepted by finding unanimity."



"I have no doubt at all that Britain's future lies in the European Union and at the centre of its events, not on the sidelines ... constructive and engaged, not simply because the interests of Europe demand it, but above all because the interests of Britain demand it."


"There are few people, outside of the Conservative Party, who genuinely think it sensible for Britain to withdraw from the European Union."


"The test is how to advance modern economic competitiveness in an open and cohesive society. For advanced economies, that means high-quality, high value-added goods and services; and a society not riven by social inequity and exclusion."


"For the employee today, their best guarantee of long- term security is by promoting the health of the enterprise and their [the worker's] own employability."


"The world is undergoing an economic revolution. In a generation's time Europe will be overtaken by Asia unless it adopts an entirely new economic approach - open markets plus education and welfare reform."


"We need the open markets, but we will never compete on low wages or skills ... The message of the past 200 years is that the greater the freedom of trade between nations and the wider the geographical extent of trade, the more prosperous the world has become."


"It is necessary to consider an extension of qualified majority voting, though not in certain areas of vital national importance such as defence, immigration, or treaty change, And such an extension would be more justifiable if there were a re-weighting of QMV to give fairer representation to larger countries."


Political Editor