The European Elections: Hurd says multi-track idea 'is already happening': Donald Macintyre detects a curious unity among the Europhobes

Politics is full of accidents. There is some evidence that Mr Major's closest circle did not expect his speech setting out his vision of a multi-track Europe at Ellesmere Port on Tuesday night to make quite the impact it did.

There is an equal amount of evidence that they are well pleased that it did so. For the immediate interpretation of it - heavily reinforced by Jack Cunningham, Labour's Foreign Affairs spokesman - that Mr Major was effectively suggesting a two-speed Europe in which Britian would remain in the slow lane - may not have been quite accurate. Indeeed Mr Major himself stressed in his speech last night that a 'flexible Europe' did not mean 'we must have a first division and a second division'. But it has had a strangely unifying effect on Mr Major's most Euro-sceptic critics.

The interpretation is also likely to play well with precisely that group of voters about which the Tories are most concerned in the current European election: the core supporters who are most likely to stay at home, many of them deeply suspicious of Europe and all its works.

Lord Tebbit's welcome on Wednesday night for Mr Major's speech may actually bring some of those voters out on Thursday. And that counts more at present - in elections on which Mr Major's future could still finally depend - than an adverse reaction in continental capitals.

The fact is that the 'flexible geometry' idea, at least as floated by Douglas Hurd in his speeches in Warsaw and Inverness over the past few weeks, is not quite the same as the notion to which Lord Tebbit extended his chilly embrace on Wednesday night. On the other hand it had been - before Mr Major's Ellesmere Port speech - genuinely welcomed by 'inside right' members of the Cabinet like Michael Howard as a concept that the party can unite around.

On the stump this week, Mr Hurd expanded in an interview with the Independent on what the government means by it. Mr Hurd insisted that the multi-track idea 'has been part of our thinking since Maastricht, it's part of the Prime Minister's thinking now. We think it's already happening'.

Mr Hurd reeled off a list of examples in which 'some do, others don't'. The Western European Union in which Britain plays a key role. Bosnia, in which Britain France, Spain and the Netherlands are key participants while others are not. The European Exchange Rate Mechanism where 'we don't others do'. And so on. And in answer to the question of whether Britain can withstand the pressure for further integration on issues that are matters for inter- governmental co-operation rather than EU competence, Mr Hurd cited deregulation and subsidiarity (or minimum interference, as he prefers to call it) as examples of where Britain had at first been isolated, but had then been shown to lead the way.

He argued, too, that just as Britain and France have worked closely on Bosnia, so they see eye to eye on the issue of the need to preserve a national veto. Admitting that the 'argument is not yet over' he adds, nevertheless, that the 'old-fashioned concept of the federal European state is not going to happen'. Mr Hurd cited - as an example of the importance of keeping foreign policy as a matter for inter- governmental co-operation rather than formal EU voting - a recent discussion on how far aid to the Ukraine shoud be tied to economic and politicial reform. 'It's very important that we are able to share an analysis, discuss it, go away and reflect on it and then reach a consensus.' The alternative was a Commission proposal inviting a vote - a process much more likely to create a damaging split.

Mr Hurd is braver than most of his Cabinet colleagues - including some of his more prominent fellow pro-Europeans - in saying that Europe is indeed more than simply a free-trade area or a single market. But he is also emphatic that not everything that happens in Europe has to be reflected in an EU institution that takes its decisions by majority vote on proposals made by the European Commission.

The big question is how far, if at all, his optimisim is justified about the future intentions of Britain's European partners. He points out that Chancellor Helmut Kohl has forsworn the idea of a superstate. For the moment, the debate over flexible geometry has two advantages for the Tories. First that the simplistic interpretation may help them a little on Thursday. Secondly, a bigger prize than that: it could - just conceivably - bring a measure of unity to the party on the issue that threatens to become the Corn Laws of the 1990s.

Suggested Topics
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little