He just can't get away from it all: Christian Wolmar finds himself in the same hole as the Prime Minister

Christian Wolmar
Friday 06 May 1994 23:02

SHE WAS not the first person John Major wanted to meet after a long, sleepless night. He stalked past her as she sat among the guests waiting for the Queen to open Waterloo International station, but Baroness Thatcher, for whom virtually sleepless nights are the norm anyway, was not to be ignored.

Over she came to the front row, where Mr Major was siting with John Gummer and Michael Howard, and offered her hand in that characteristic fashion, half handshake, half consoling touch. She even did the same to Lord Howe.

'She's stolen the show again,' muttered a Tory MP: as ever, she had broken all protocol by going up to her successor. Actually, Mr Major looked like a man who was not really cut out even for a walk-on part. He grinned at her, starting to bow politely, before realising that she was no longer, to use one of her expressions, one of us.

It was not, in any case, his idea to have this ceremony the day after the local government elections. It had been planned a year ago, the date dictacted by the Elysee and Buckingham palaces.

With relief, Mr Major slipped off to the train for his Awayday on the Eurostar train, with the press being kept well away. But at Calais, even with Lady Thatcher now relegated to her back seat role, it got worse: President Francois Mitterrand kept on using that damned word 'Europe' in his speech.

Mr Major sat in the front row, his slight smile fixed permanently, as Mr Mitterrand stressed the importance of the tunnel to his European project. It 'reinforces the European Union', it was 'another step towards European unity' and it would make Europe 'more united and more cemented'. Mr Major did not blanch. At least Michael Portillo wasn't there.

On the train back to Folkestone, he was in chatty mood, talking to the press about the merits of the tunnel, but the local elections were off limits: 'I've said all I have to say about them this morning.'

Things did not improve when he arrived back in a grey Folkestone. His French counterpart, Edouard Balladur, seemed intent on joining that woman wearing the black and white hat, but Mr Major politely steered him away. And then, after 10 minutes of avoiding the subject, Mr Mitterrand started bringing up Europe yet again.

Not the best Awayday on the train.

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