We're friends and we want a fresh start, Henderson tells EU partners

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The Labour government yesterday sought to secure a role at the heart of Europe by confirming it would sign the Social Chapter and make a "fresh start" in relations with its partners, writes Sarah Helm in Brussels.

"We want to work with you as colleagues in a shared enterprise. Not using the language of opponents," said Doug Henderson, the new minister for Europe, who yesterday took over the British reins in talks on European Union reform.

Mr Henderson also confirmed that the Government would accept an employment chapter in the new Amsterdam treaty, and would be ready to make compromises on extension of qualified majority voting in order to sign a deal at Amsterdam in June.

Britain's partners welcomed the shift to the European "mainstream". However, signs that Labour is likely to run into clashes with Tory Euro- sceptics emerged as the European Commission detailed plans for more legislation under the Social Chapter and questioned the government's powers to reduce VAT on fuel.