The Tories in Bournemouth: Hurd warns against turning back on Europe: But party faithful reserve their cheers for anti-European sentiments. Stephen Goodwin reports

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The Independent Online
DOUGLAS HURD, the Foreign Secretary, cautioned the Conservative faithful against the temptation to turn their backs on Europe as the party's most active faultline burst open again on the first day of the Bournemouth conference.

Following directly on an attack on the very existence of the European Parliament, drawing cheers and footstamping, Mr Hurd said no one won an argument by kicking over the table.

'Our interest lies in steering Europe our way, rather than pretending we belong to another continent. Whenever we have looked away from our continent over the past 100 years, we have paid a price. So has Europe.'

He said there were arguments in Europe that Britain needed to win. Enlargement of the EU meant more than adding chairs to the table. He did not believe the CAP could survive in its present form and nor could the pattern of redistributing money within the union.

During the European elections and at Leiden, Germany, last month, John Major had begun to set out the case for an open, thriving, flexible Europe, with nations accepting binding rules where necessary, as on the single market, but free to choose in which other areas they could usefully work together at a speed they were comfortable with.

Warning against 'siren sounds' from within the party and outside, suggesting 'we can just turn our backs on Europe', the Foreign Secretary said working together did not mean giving in to what others wanted or putting British interests second. It meant listening to others, realising they had interests and traditions as well.

'We can, if we wish, take another road. We can enjoy ourselves morning, noon and night, poking fun at foreigners, or frightening ourselves with foreign threats. We can get just a little high on xenophobia. . . But let us be clear. If we indulge ourselves in that sort of way, we won't have a strong and effective foreign policy, we won't be influencing events, we won't be advancing British interests.'

In a reference to the difficulties of the Maastricht legislation, he said that any treaty changes would need to pass again through national parliaments. 'No one with any grasp of the political realities over the last three years can suppose that the national parliaments or national electorates will vote for the smothering and extinction of the nations of Europe.'

The polite applause which only occasionally punctuated Mr Hurd's speech contrasted with the spontaneous enthusiasm for the anti-European stance of Ronald Forrest, a member from Pembrokeshire. 'Many of us are concerned about the drift to closer integration and the loss of national sovereignty.' He said the low turnout in the European Parliament elections showed the British people treated this 'symbol of federalism' with the contempt it deserved. 'Its very existence must be a threat to the 'Mother of Parliaments'. If we are not going to have a United States of Europe, surely there can be no case for an increase in the powers of the European Parliament.'

But Lord Plumb of Coleshill, leader of the Conservative MEPs, said isolation was not a option for Britain and appealed to the party for unity. Fourteen Tories lost their seats in last June's elections, leaving the party with only 18 MEPs to Labour's 62. 'We have learned two things. First, we will only win in Britain if we are united. And second, we will only win in Europe if we have got friends.'

Later, Lord Tebbit addressed a fringe meeting on what he called 'the great European disaster' threatening Britain. 'We must do more to raise the alarm at the extent and the speed of the destruction of our system of law, our Parliament, and our conventions of government.'

He detailed the ability of an 'alien court in Brussels' to over- rule decisions of the Home Secretary on UK pensions arrangements and scoffed at the 'lunatic fringe of Europhiles' and most MEPs whom he could hear saying, 'there goes Tebbit again with emotional old-fashioned nationalism'.

'Because the Brussels bacon slicer is so sharp and because it slices so thin, will we fail to call a halt to the salami-ing of our right to self-government until it has all gone?' The former party chairman said ministers should clear their minds of the 'ephemera and trivia' of policy on the date for mowing the grass on set-aside land, and ask what was Britain's national interest.

The community should be open to nations from the Atlantic to the Urals, and states should be bound by treaty to do no more than necessary to ensure free movement of goods, services and capital. There should be a reduction in the powers of the Commission and the Council of Ministers, and there should be 'no role at all for the European Parliament and its hangers-on', Lord Tebbit said.

Norman Lamont, page 19

(Photograph omitted)