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Tuesday, October 5, 1999 Published at 08:13 GMT 09:13 UK


UK Politics

Tories demand 'pick and choose' Europe

John Maples: Set to use conference speech to argue for opt-outs

Conservative leader William Hague has called for more flexibility in the United Kingdom's relationship with the Europe Union, including the right to opt out of legislation.


Click here to see William Hague's interview with BBC's Political Correspondent Carole Walker
Mr Hague was speaking on Tuesday, prior to shadow foreign secretary John Maples' speech to the party conference.

The Tory move comes just hours after former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine warned of the "incalculable folly" of allowing the party to become more Euro-sceptic.

Conference99
Mr Maples will tell the delegates in Blackpool that he wants changes to the Treaty of Rome, the founding document of the EU which sets out the rules for membership.

He will say he wants it to be amended to allow individual member states to decide whether or not to apply EU legislation, in all areas except free trade and the single market.

This would in effect mean a blanket opt-out for all EU countries on a range of European laws, including the Social Chapter and health and safety regulations.

Mr Hague said treaty changes happened within the EU on a regular basis and becoming more flexible was the "right way for Europe to go".

He told the BBC: "I think it's very important in bringing the countries of central and Eastern Europe into the European Union to make the European Union more flexible. It is too rigid, it is too obsessed with structures.

"It needs to be more flexible in our interests and in the interests of countries coming into the European Union."


[ image: Michael Heseltine:
Michael Heseltine: "Euro-scepticism is having a good run"
Mr Hague dismissed suggestions that if, as a Tory prime minister, he could not change the relationship with Europe, Britain would have to leave the European Union.

"We will change the relationship, we will get a new treaty provision," he said.

But his remarks were in stark contrast to those made by Mr Heseltine at a fringe meeting on Monday evening.

He told party members there was not "anyone else in Europe trying to change the broad rules of the game".

The former deputy prime minister warned Mr Hague he had to be wary of the rising tide of Euro-scepticism within the party.

He said: "There are people on the fringes of our party who actually have an agenda called 'Britain out' and they have to be exposed and the danger revealed."

A policy of renegotiation would only serve to further their cause, Mr Heseltine argued.

He said: "Within the Conservative Party, Euro-scepticism is having a good run at the moment - that is absolutely unanswerable.

"We had it under John Major when we had 160 candidates defying the party line in the general election and look where it got us."

Mr Hague has been quick to slap down the former minister.

Before Mr Heseltine had even made his fringe appearance, the Tory leader quipped: "This is Blackpool, the tide comes in, the sun comes up and Michael Heseltine makes a speech on Europe."



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