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The BBC's Political Editor, Andrew Marr
"Britain's political leaders have gone into battle"
 real 56k

UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair
"Anti-European nonsense"
 real 28k

Trevor Kavanagh, political editor, The Sun newspaper
"We are not making up our stories"
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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 20:39 GMT
Blair turns on 'Euro army' critics
British soldiers in Bosnia
12,500 UK troops will be part of the force
Prime Minister Tony Blair has issued a strong rebuke to the Eurosceptic press after its critical response to his commitment that 12,500 UK soldiers will serve in a new EU Rapid Reaction Force.

The prime minister said for the UK not to take part in such projects would be "absolute and utter madness".


Some of the coverage in those newspapers is fundamentally dishonest

Tony Blair

But the Conservatives say that the reaction force represents a step towards the creation of the EU's own army.

Speaking in Moscow while on a visit to see President Putin, Mr Blair said he was "totally determined" not to be blown off course by the criticisms.

Responding to claims in the media that the 60,000 strong force would be a threat to Nato, he said: "This is a pretty big claim to make but I think even by the standards of parts of our anti-European media some of the coverage in those newspapers is fundamentally dishonest.

"There is no concept of a European army," said Mr Blair.

"In respect of each individual mission the consent of each individual country has to be given, it [the force] is in respect of peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, it's only when Nato itself does not wish to be engaged."


It is time for Tony Blair to do an about-turn before he does a lot of damage to Nato

William Hague
He added: "Nato has already given its blessing to this. There may be circumstances for these limited missions when the Americans don't want to be engaged. All we are saying is in these circumstances we should have the ability to act if we wish to do so."

Turning to the critical response from Eurosceptic newspapers to the plans, Mr Blair said: "You would think British troops had never served alongside French and German and Spanish troops.

"Kosovo [peace-keeping troops] are under a Spanish general now. The idea that there's anything strange in this is bizarre."

Further underlining his commitment to having the UK at the centre of Europe, Mr Blair said: "I feel totally determined. I will not let this type of anti-European nonsense disturb the true national interest of our country.

"The idea that Britain should retreat to the margins of the EU, the key strategic alliance on our doorstep, is absolute and utter madness for our country."

Election issue

Conservative leader William Hague attacked the prime minister's stance, saying that Labour could not be trusted on defence.

Senior commanders from the Falklands and Gulf wars were opposed to the move, he said.

"I would rather rely on their advice than the advice of Tony Blair and Robin Cook.

"Every soldier knows the meaning of about-turn. And it is time for Tony Blair to do an about-turn before he does a lot of damage to Nato.

Mr Hague made it clear that a future Conservative Government would pull British troops out of the new European force.

His party would use the issue to attack Labour during the general election campaign, he added.

The prime minister in Russia
Tony Blair: Not to take part in plans would be "madness"
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon denied claims that the Americans were worried by the proposals.

"The US administration, from the president down, has welcomed this development," he said.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook echoed those views.

"What we are seeking to do is to compliment and not compete with the assets of Nato."

Speaking to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee he added that relations with the US could be damaged if the EU did not establish the force.

Sun tells 'the truth'

Responding to the prime minister's attack Trevor Kavanagh, political editor of The Sun newspaper, said: "The Sun supports Labour, so does The Times."

Both newspapers are owned by Eurosceptic Rupert Murdoch.

Mr Kavanagh insisted that the paper's journalism was not dishonest in its European coverage.

"We are not making up our stories," he said, adding that The Sun was supported in its views by former senior statesman such as Denis Healey, Peter Carrington, David Owen and Malcolm Rifkind.

He said: "What we are trying to do is to tell the public the truth."

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See also:

21 Nov 00 | Europe
Talks to widen EU force
14 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Minister denies Euro army move
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