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Saturday, December 12, 1998 Published at 12:27 GMT

UK Politics

Blair backs Thatcher's Euro stance

Blair: "Margaret Thatcher was quite right"

Tony Blair has praised Margaret Thatcher for standing firm for Britain's interests in Europe.

Speaking from the EU summit in Vienna, he said the former Conservative prime minister - now Baroness Thatcher - had done the right thing by insisting on Britain's national interest being paramount in negotiations with European Union partners.

But he also said he "profoundly" disagreed with her politics and that he wanted Britain to be a leading player in Europe.

Mr Blair's comments were made in a pre-recorded interview for GMTV's Sunday programme.

'Good thing that Britain is part of Europe'

Mr Blair said: "What I would say is that Margaret Thatcher was quite right when she stood firm for Britain's interest, but you don't have to stand firm by being anti the whole notion of the European Union.

"It is possible to be firm in defence of your national interest while saying it is a good thing that Britain is part of Europe.

"Britain gets a lot out of Europe, Britain can build the alliances in Europe to secure our future there.

"So these comparisons with Margaret Thatcher - any prime minister should always stand up for Britain.

"My point, and where I profoundly disagree with her politics, is that it is actually in Britain's interest to be a strong leading player in Europe."

[ image: Blair denies the summit has been
Blair denies the summit has been "bruising"
On Friday, the Spanish President of the European Parliament, Jose Maria Gil-Robles, attacked Britain and other centre left governments.

He accused them of seeking to raise Thatcherism from the grave in their demands for a radical reform of EU finances, which would leave them shouldering less of the burden.

Mr Blair also said he accepted Britain - like other nations - would have to make changes in its financial dealings with the EU to cope with the planned enlargement of the union to take in former Soviet Bloc countries.

He said: "I certainly accept that Britain is going to have to make changes, like all European countries are, if we are going to enlarge the union and it is very much in our interests that we take in Eastern Europe to the EU.

UK may end up increasing its contribution

"But on the British rebate obviously our position is very clear because the reason for the rebate still remains."

The prime minister appeared to concede that the UK may end up having to increase its 2bn - 3bn contribution to EU coffers.

But he insisted Britain wanted to make the EU more efficient "so that we don't keep paying more and more out, for example to the Common Agricultural Policy where a lot of that money frankly isn't used to its best purpose".

He denied that the summit had been "bruising" and said he hoped for action to boost employment across the EU in line with a joint statement Britain had prepared in advance with Spain.

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