Redwood rounds on Euro court

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The Tory leadership contender John Redwood yesterday warned that people would be breaking the law by working more than 48 hours a week, if an imminent European Court case enforces British implementation of a Brussels directive, writes Anthony Bevins.

In the Commons on Thursday, five Tory Euro-sceptics flagged their acute interest in the issue with demands for a full-scale debate if the European Court rules against a Government challenge to the directive next week.

The Prime Minister reminded the House that he intended to fight for the strict letter of the Maastricht agreement, under which it had been accepted that the social protocol - which, Britain argues, covers the 48-hour working week - would not be smuggled into law under the cover of health and safety provisions of the treaty. In a veiled hint of further, beef-style non- cooperation ahead, he added: "Our colleagues in Europe need not expect that we will reach further agreements at the next intergovernmental conference unless, at that conference, they are prepared to restore the agreement that I reached at Maastricht."

However, Mr Redwood yesterday called for a tougher British stance, saying: "The Government should now look at other contingency plans. Britain should be prepared to keep this directive away from our shores, whatever the court may say."

He told a Conservative meeting in West Derbyshire that the working week directive would ban or limit the amount of overtime people could work.

"Far from protecting people at work, " he said, "it would make it illegal for them to work longer hours for more money. An employer would have to say 'No' to an employee who wanted extra overtime.

"It would be an especially cruel blow to workers in seasonal employment, who need to work long hours when the opportunity is available. It would also mean some of us would have to break the law if we wanted to carry on working more than 48 hours a week in order to do a good job."

The Tory Euro-sceptics plan to launch a national campaigning group at the Conservative Party conference this autumn. The new body - Conservatives Against a Federal Europe - is designed to take advantage of what the Tory dissidents see as the growing tide of public opposition to closer EU ties. It will be unveiled by the Westminster Group of Eight former whipless Tory MPs at their fringe meeting at the party conference in Bournemouth, in October.