Hurd upsets Danes on treaty: Threat of isolation if referendum next month rejects Maastricht

DOUGLAS HURD yesterday threw a hand-grenade into the Danish referendum on the Maastricht treaty on 18 May by threatening Denmark with isolation if it voted 'no' again and hinting that Britain might join any attempt to renegotiate the deal.

His comments sweep the ground from under the feet of the 'no' campaign for the referendum, and they will infuriate the treaty's opponents in Britain and Denmark, who have worked together very closely. But they are in line with the Prime Minister's new more assertive stand on Europe, and reflect opinion that the battle for the treaty is largely won in Britain.

Support for the treaty in Denmark had been on the wane, though it had hardened slightly in the past few days. The Foreign Secretary had said earlier that if the treaty was rejected in Denmark, then it would fail, and Britain would not take part in any alternative arrangement. That had been a centrepiece of the 'no' campaign: if Denmark rejected the treaty, it would not be ostracised and would not be left on its own if others proceeded with a new treaty.

But after a meeting of foreign ministers at Hindsgavl castle yesterday, Mr Hurd, who had been asked if his previous comments still stood, said: 'I am not saying that we would not take part in any alternative arrangements.'

He also said 'there would be a crisis' over Denmark's membership in the Community. Fears that Denmark would be kicked out or marginalised in the EC have been important in spurring support for the 'yes' campaign. His comments astounded Danish journalists. Mr Hurd said that since the treaty was a treaty of 12, it would fail if rejected by the Danes. But he added that there would then be discussion among the 12 about how to proceed, 'an open field'.

There has been much speculation that the other 10 would proceed with economic and monetary union if either Britain or Denmark, or both, fell by the wayside. Mr Hurd's comments will add to pressure for a 'yes' vote and reflect increasing confidence that the parliamentary battle for the treaty is won.

That confidence was underlined at the weekend by Tristan Garel-Jones, the Foreign Office minister, who said Conservative sights should be trained on the 1996 summit. 'What we must do now is start setting out our stall for 1996 and begin working out within the Conservative Party our agenda for Europe through to the year 2000. We have strong allies now in France, Germany, Portugal and Denmark. For the first time, Britain can shape rather than brake Europe's development.'

The Social Democrats, who head the Danish government, had called in Philip Gould, a former adviser to both the Labour Party and Bill Clinton, to address the party this week. This is partly in response to the very high profile of British opponents of the treaty. Last week, Tony Benn starred at a meeting of the 'no' campaign, and Lord Tebbit, Michael Spicer and others have all made appearances.