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Monday, December 14, 1998 Published at 16:06 GMT

UK Politics

Blair pledges to protect UK interests

Tony Blair: Accused of giving conflicting statements

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected the threat of tax harmonisation by the European Union.

He told MPs tax had formed only a small part of negotiations at the Vienna summit.

These talks were "not aimed at achieving uniform tax rates or preventing fair tax competition", he said.

Talks are going ahead aimed at co-ordinating energy tax by December 1999, he said.

"The British Government will ensure British interests remain fully protected and promoted in those discussions," the prime minister pledged.

[ image: The argument is growing as the euro comes close to being a reality]
The argument is growing as the euro comes close to being a reality
In response, Conservative leader William Hague said Mr Blair was saying one thing at home and another abroad.

Mr Hague said the essence of the statement issued by the European leaders could be summed up in its first sentence of their agreement: "European integration has gained new momentum."

The opposition leader said: "Let's have some straight answers. Is that further integration something that he welcomes? And if it isn't why doesn't he do something about it? And if he doesn't know then he doesn't deserve to be prime minister."

Mr Blair responded by attacking the policies of his opponent.

"This country's national interest lies in being part of Europe," he said.

"That's the way to win in Europe and that is what this government shall do."

William Hague: "Britain now faces the greatest threat to it's independence"
Earlier, Mr Hague said the prime minister was merely "going with flow" on policies aimed at creating a single European state.

Mr Hague said: "At the Vienna summit this weekend, Europe's leaders had the chance to get Europe moving in the right direction again.

"The prime minister failed to put forward a positive, modern vision for Europe. He failed to show leadership for Britain and for British interests.

"Instead he seems to think all you have to do is grin to win. So he was carried by the tide."

While the Conservatives favour staying out of the single currency for at least 10 years, Mr Hague said he believed Labour want to abandon the pound as fast as possible.

"I think they intend to join the single currency when they think they can get away with it.

"They really want to bounce the country into the single currency as soon as they can."

Plans are already underway to extend European harmonisation to employment, defence and legal policy, the Tory leader said.

Instead of progressing towards a united states of Europe, Mr Hague said bringing in states from central and eastern Europe should once again become a priority.

"Europe should be bringing prosperity and stability to newly-free states, not spending its time making enlargement more difficult.

"Now, countries like Poland and Hungary see little chance of joining the EU before 2005."

Another area where the UK should be taking a lead within Europe is to push for global free trade by 2020, Mr Hague said.

But Mr Blair had demonstrated his lack of leadership at the Vienna summit by failing to grasp the opportunity to set out the UK view, he said.

Writing in The Times on Monday, the prime minister again blames the presentation of Europe in the media for much of the current hysteria over tax harmonisation.

He writes: "The casualty has been any sense of balance in the debate.

"A lot of the stories were simply untrue. The idea that there is some grand EU design to bump up taxes is just false."

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